EARLIER this year I was invited to a work-in-progress presentation of The Band - the hot new musical co-produced by Take That, featuring a selection of their songs.

Actresses Rachel Lumberg and Faye Christall were in a workshop scene with Five to Five, the boyband picked from BBC1's Let It Shine to appear in the new musical. A group of invited fans loved it, and Gary Barlow, Howard Donaldson and Mark Owen announced that the show would hit the road later in 2017.

Fast forward six months and I'm at the glitzy press night of The Band at Manchester Opera House, with the likes of Graham Norton, Mel Giedroyc and Coronation Street stars gracing the red carpet. The show is a triumph and Take That make a special one-off appearance at the finale, singing Relight My Fire with Lulu, to the delight of whooping fans. Even Take That's mums are in the audience!

Co-producer David Pugh announces to a packed audience that the tour has been extended by another year. Gary Barlow had previously admitted it was "a risk" to try and find a band for a major show on Let It Shine, and Tim Firth initially had reservations about writing a "Take That musical" - until he realised it wasn't actually about Take That.

But, with The Band breaking box office records, taking £2million within two hours of tickets going on sale, making it the fastest-selling musical tour ever, it seems the risks paid off.

At the after-show party at Manchester's Lowry Hotel, I catch up with Faye and Rachel, who play younger and older versions of central character Rachel. We first meet her when she's 16 and, along with her gang of five best friends, is obsessed with 'the band'. Written by Tim Firth, the show is a funny, poignant ode to friendship. We later meet the girls as forty-something women, reunited on a mission to see their beloved band once more.

"What's great is the clever use of Take That songs," says Rachel. "They're not just strung together, they help tell the story."

Rachel's theatre credits include Tim Firth's Calendar Girls and This Is My Family, and award-winning performances in The Full Monty and Romeo and Juliet. She has been in TV dramas such as Stella and Accused and her films include Emma and Summertime. Faye, who is from the Wirral, trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and is part of the Cirque du Soleil Company.

The two actresses worked closely together on their interpretation of Rachel. "We watched each others' mannerisms and worked out who she is," says Faye. "Tim has been really hands-on in, we've been very much involved with the character's development."

Both Faye and Rachel are fans of Tim's writing. "He writes brilliantly for women, he really gets us," says Rachel. "When I worked with him a few years ago he kept hearing me say, 'For the love of God' in rehearsals. Next thing I knew. he'd written it into the script for me! He captures superbly that balance between humour and pathos. One minute it feels unbearably sad, then the rug is pulled from underneath you and you're laughing again. He doesn't let you get away with crying for too long!"

Although the show is very much about Rachel and her friends, their beloved band is a constant backdrop, singing the soundtrack to their lives. Five to Five, who are in practically every scene in various guises, are impressive in not just their vocal delivery, but acting skills too. "They work so hard, they're amazing," says Rachel. "They bring the music to life; this couldn't happen without them."

Gary Barlow has described The Band as a show for anyone who grew up loving a band. "It will make you feel 15 again," he said.

"It's about friendships we make when we're young, that special bond. I have friends I hope I'll have forever," says Faye.

"I still have friends from primary school, they were in the audience tonight," adds Rachel. "People are saying this is a show that makes you want to call up old friends."

* The Band is at the Alhambra from October 17-28. For tickets call (01274) 432000.