Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) review – Harry Hill puts the party into politics

The Guardian
The Guardian
Bopping vitality … Charlie Baker in Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Park Theatre, London.

Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s X Factor spoof I Can’t Sing! was hamstrung by having Simon Cowell as a producer. No such conflict in the duo’s follow-up, Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera), which subjects the messianic ex-PM to a prolonged and enjoyable ribbing.

Charlie Baker brings the gormless, bopping vitality of Jack Black to the role of the former MP for Sedgefield, who drifts into public life to meet his hero “Mick Jaggers”. Returning to No 10 deranged and dishevelled after pledging solidarity with George W Bush over Iraq, he resembles a man who has sold his soul or had the most debauched weekend of his life. Or both.

Baker just about holds together a production with the jamboree-bag messiness of a student revue or a children’s party (there is balloon modelling courtesy of Peter Mandelson). The 10-strong cast, dressed uniformly in Blair’s suit and red tie, play everyone from Neil Kinnock to Diana, Princess of Wales (a standout turn from Madison Swan). Howard Samuels doubles up as puppet-masters Mandelson and Dick Cheney, and Holly Sumpton’s Cherie Blair comes on like Lady Macbeth crossed with The Liver Birds. In art as in life, Gordon Brown (Gary Trainor) gets a raw deal, calling for meaningful change while Blair – who bests him at the Granita dinner, staged here as a wrestling match – rides the celebrity cyclone.
Celebrity cyclone … Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Park theatre, London. Photograph: Mark Douet

The second act brings a double-whammy of numbers aiming for the bad-taste highs of The Producers or The Book of Mormon. Kill the Infidels, sung by Osama bin Laden and his Real Housewives spouses, is followed by a Groucho Marx-style Saddam Hussein crooning I Never Done Anything Wrong. Too often, though, the delivery props up lyrics that lack a certain comic gleam and precision.

Opening the show with Blair Methuselah-haired on his deathbed also whets the appetite for speculation about his dotage, which sadly never transpires. Still, it’s fitting that he is wheeled in on a gurney under a sheet, smoke swirling around him. The effect is very James Whale, neatly setting up the climactic suggestion that we voters are the Frankensteins who created this Prime Monster.

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