I can guarantee two things if you go to watch Fat Friends the musical.
One, you’ll never be able to look at a Flake quite the same again.
And two, you will really fancy a massive bag of fish and chips on the way home.
Which is handy, because the newest musical on the block is playing the Opera House at Blackpool Winter Gardens and I counted nine salt and vinegar-based establishments on my five minute walk from car to theatre.
Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends has stormed into Lancashire’s liveliest seaside resort, a perfect fit for it’s brash, heart-warming, no-nonsense northern humour which puts two fingers up to the stuffier musicals where stars must be five foot nine and a size eight.
Based on the TV series of the same name, Kay Mellor’s only appearance is the mobile phone announcement before curtain up but the cast is largely drawn from the north and this run is a homecoming for its star turn, the roof-raising talent of reality show turned musical darling Jodie Prenger.
The Blackpool lass, educated at Elmslie Girls’ School and Blackpool and the Fylde College before stardom struck, was able to inject her enigmatic personality and quite astonishing voice into a role which clearly means a lot to her personally and particularly poignant in her home town, tweeting her nerves before the show.
She battled the same issues on TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ as her character does here.
As Kelly, she is under pressure to fit into the wedding dress she loves, but does the self-proclaimed diet-hater really have to conform to be the same as everyone else?
She shines on stage alongside her sharp-tongued and skinny sister Joanne (Rachael Wooding) and her nice but dim fiance Kevin who loves her just as she is, played by Andrew Flintoff.
Yes, you heard right, all eyes were turned on a most unusual casting, Preston-born cricket all-rounder Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, who not only was acting but singing including a solo in the show, which features music by Nick Lloyd-Webber (Andrew’s son).
Although I was holding my breath for the most Freddie’s solo turn, he actually managed remarkably well and most certainly can act and sing, getting some of the loudest applause of the night though he did not look entirely comfortable and I don’t blame him.
It must be terrifying to sing on a stage in context of the formidable Jodi, Sam Bailey (playing Jodie’s weight-loss champion mum Betty) not to mention the pop princess Natasha Hamilton of Atomic Kitten fame.
But where Freddie lacks experience in performance finesse he more than make up for in charm. His performance is both likeable and funny and warmth emanates toward him from the audience.
Natasha plays the formidable and slightly barmy ‘Super Slimmer’ boss Julia Fleshman who fixates on Jodie’s weight loss journey as a way to fame and fortune, taking few prisoners on the way.
Undoubtedly her performance is one of the strongest in the show with her slick Scouse humour and gritty singing voice – she certainly knows how to dominate a stage.
Natalie Anderson as the weight obsessed but skinny Lauren , leader of the local slimming branch and desperate for love, is also compelling with her storyline and her care for everyone else.
But this was, more than anything, a riotous, ensemble, performance which hits its target market perfectly in the cockles of the heart with a side order of delicious fried fun and a collection of huge personalities for pudding.
You’ll leave smiling.
First appeared in Lancashire Post