Theatre in Wales

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A great induction to Elton John ‘the showman’ – warts and all.

Rocketman, Chapter Arts Centre, May 22th, 2019.

Taron Egerton , Chapter Cardiff , May-22-19
Rocketman, Chapter Arts Centre, May 22th, 2019. by Taron Egerton Before seeing Rocketman, the motion picture in the cinema I intentionally avoided being influenced by any reviews, good or bad. I must disclose that I am in fact a rather serious Elton John fan and have seen him live in concert on a number of occasions, meeting him briefly at the Royal Albert Hall in 1994. Indeed, he has influenced my own songwriting. My knowledge is of both his music and illustrious timeline. As you might expect, although biased, my expectations of this film have probably been as big as the icon himself. I have been counting the days!

The film is a musical treatment of Sir Elton John’s almost mythical biography, from a young boy and takes us though to the first twenty years or so of his notable career. It is reflective, with a chronological bent. For those new to him, the film is a great induction to Elton John ‘the showman’ – warts and all. Although at 2hr 1min it is perhaps longer than your average film, you will most certainly not be looking at your watch. I found it totally engaging. So much so that within a few days went to see it for a second time – something I very rarely find myself doing.

The film is surreal, magical, honest, funny, informative, innovative, outrageous, sad, moving and emotional. In fact, there are so many positive adjectives that I could use. Putting it simply, everything about it is stunning. As a musical it feels a little like Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show and later more like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, on account of the totally wonderful, luscious, full, sometimes haunting soundtrack. Giles Martin (son of famed George Martin of Beatles fame) has produced a musical backdrop that seamlessly interlaces and drives a very watchable film. Elton’s music and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are equally important in this film. Serendipitously, the songs have been lying in wait over the decades, ready to awaken from the ashes and provide content for this film.

Ultimately, although Rocketman is a kind of rock biopic musical-fantasy, it is the story of a boy and later a man’s search for love – love that was a very long time coming. That boy was Reginald Kenneth Dwight and that man (legally) became Elton Hercules John. Music becomes his passion and his escape into a world where he couldn’t find the love that he desperately desired. As a result, his outrageous costumes, showmanship and Rock ‘n’ Roll excesses (drugs, sex, eating and shopping) become his unintentional trademarks as a product of his attention-seeking behaviours. The story-line opens with and ends over the arc of Elton recanting his live in a rehab clinic group – representing his journey from addictions to sobriety.

The choice of casting is almost flawless. The actors that fill the timeline could not be better designated. I must take my hat off to fellow Welshman Taron Egerton (of Kingsman fame). His name derived from the Welsh word “taran” apparently means ‘thunder’ and an apt inference to his presence. He certainly has put his heart and soul into this role; not just as an actor and ‘fairly’ deserving lookalike, but as a very tender singer. There is no lip-synching in this creation. Although not an exact vocal facsimile of Elton (and does not need to be), he does make you believe he is the man himself. The tone and grain in his voice, combined with intricate arrangements and inflections in the songs that we know and love, add considerable emotion and integrity to the musical. I was inundated with goose-pimples throughout. Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot lineage) plays the role of lyricist Bernie Taupin and convincingly illustrates the very close, life-long bond with Elton. As indicated, the story is about more than the man himself. At first, I thought that Taupin was played by two different actors; only on my second viewing did I realise fully that Bell played both parts. Also, I always thought that the young Taupin was more handsome than depicted.

There were excellent performances from Gemma Jones (as Elton’s grandmother), Elton’s mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Elton’s loveless father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). Last but by no means least, Elton’s manager and lover John Reid, played by current heart-throb Richard Madden depicted a significant, albeit controlling, perhaps destructive influence in Elton’s life. Madden is an unexpected pairing for this role yet is compelling.

Praise must go to director Dexter Fletcher, producers David Furnish and Matthew Vaughn who have cleverly and innovatively managed to bring the story together in such a way that encapsulates and magnifies all the key moments. Also, much acclaim should go to Lee Hall’s script-writing craftsmanship which is so well-devised and flowing. Moments in Elton’s life were very much ‘cause and effect’ and drove his real-life story to its logical conclusion.

For me, there were six moving, wonderfully momentous song-driven scenes…

“I Want Love” – a moving, heart-felt scene with potent lyrics sung by Elton and family members

“Your Song” – showing the wonderful moment Elton wrote, in different rooms, the words to Bernie’s lyrics; arguably their most important song.

“Crocodile Rock” – depicts the legendary scene at the Troubadour where Elton’s global rise to stardom ignited – with great levitational visuals!

“Rocket Man” - the surreal swimming pool scene where Elton apparently attempts suicide at his Benedict Canyon home – a cry for help!

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – a touching scene depicting Elton and Bernie’s temporary songwriting collaboration parting.

“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” – a scene portraying the end of the sham marriage of Elton and wife Renata (Blauel).

I unreservedly recommend this spectacular to both fans and non-fans alike. It is now officially my favourite all-time movie, knocking “A Prick Up Your Ears” (staring Gary Oldman) off the top spot after 32 years. From my own fairly extensive Elton John subject knowledge, there are some minor inaccuracies to the story-line, but I don’t think it pretends to be total non-fiction. It is a pseudo-fantasy and artistic licence is used throughout with prodigious effect. This musical-film concept is an outstanding achievement and I predict that it will be the template and show-reel for a world-class stage musical in the coming years; possibly a project for Elton once he has concluded his official Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.

Finally, I will make the following prediction. Rocketman will be nominated in most Oscar categories, as it is that remarkable. It comes as no surprise that it was given a four-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. I forecast Best Motion Picture for Rocketman, Best Actor Oscar from Taron Egerton, Best Supporting Actor from Richard Madden or Jamie Bell. My favourite for Best Supporting Actress is Gemma Jones who was simply delightful, and Best Director - Dexter Fletcher. This epic creation is also most worthy of awards for its exceptional musical score, screenplay, magnificent costumes and visual effects. As I indicated, awards in just about every relevant category. Elton should book a bigger venue in advance for his next legendary Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar after-party. This shall be a year to remember!

Enjoy this wonderful magical, colourful musical-film experience and listen to the official soundtrack afterwards. You will be humming the tunes for days.

Star Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewed by: Jeff Francis

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