Almost 20 years since the comedy drama hit our screens Mellor has trimmed the series down into a two-hour stage show and added another ingredient to it – music!
Set in her home town of Headingly, Fat Friends the Musical focuses on a Super Slimmer’s group and its members. For anyone who has ever set foot in a weight loss class it will strike a big chord and produce even bigger laughs with its relatable references such as the ritual of taking off every bit of jewellery and emptying your bladder before weigh in!
The real focus of the show though is bride to be Kelly and her near impossible journey to fit into her dream wedding dress in just 6 weeks’ time. Despite the fact she thinks ‘flesh is fabulous’ Kelly is spurred on by the lure of a cash prize and tries hard to resist the temptations of her Dad’s chippy – Big & Battered, so she can feel ‘Beautiful’ for her big day.
Such is the calibre of Mellor’s writing, she has managed to attract a cast jam-packed with famous faces to play the well-loved characters, including former England cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff in his theatre debut. Well established musical star Jodie Prenger takes the lead as Kelly in a role which is perfect for her. Prengers’ natural comic flair and northern charm makes it easy for the audience to fall in love with her and will Kelly on to get her happy ending.
There’s also some stand out performances from X Factor winner Sam Bailey, former Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton and Emmerdale star Natalie Anderson, all of whom belt out some stunning vocals. On paper Sam Bailey playing Jodie Prengers’ Mum sounds like a real faux pas, especially as the pair are just a couple of years apart in age. Bailey defies the sceptics though with her characterisation of Betty and proves that she can act as well sing.
Elsewhere Natasha Hamilton is on fire as the fame hungry Super Slimmer’s founder Julia Fleeshman, making the most of the acid one liners by exaggerating her scouse accent to full effect and strutting around the stage like she’s in an episode of America’s Top Model.
Whilst the ladies in the show are on form the question on everyone’s lips was “can Freddie cut it?” – well he certainly had the audience onside from the moment he walked onstage, appearing to whoops and cheers galore. Flintoff might be a better cricketer than crooner but the crowd are quick to forgive a couple of his bum notes as the loveable giant manages to bowl them over with his portrayal of Kelly’s dishy but dim fiancé Kevin.
Fat Friends the Musical might be Mellor’s first foray as a lyricist but she manages to create some fantastic numbers, well aided by the cheery and often touching score of Nick Lloyd Webber (giving his dad Andrew a run for his money in the talent stakes), which includes a mix of pop, rock and ballad genres.
Watch out for a nod to A Chorus Line with Karen Bruce’s clever choreography in ‘Step Up’ plus the outrageously funny ‘Chocolate’ dream sequence which pays homage to a flake in a way you will never have seen before!
This is a truly is a satisfying slice of musical theatre which fills you up with feel-good vibes, tips the scales with laughter and serves up a generous helping of entertainment.
Runs until Sat 24th March at Manchester’s Opera House