His powerful and automatically-recognizable voice has made him a global superstar, with record sales of more than 100 million in a roller-coaster career that has lasted nigh on half a century.

Even now, Tom Jones, or Sir Tom Jones since his knighthood in 2006, is as popular as ever and , with his pivotal role on BBC TV's The Voice, continues to be a huge influence. But life has not always been a bed of roses for this coal miner's son from South Wales.

A new production - described as a 'play with live rock 'n' roll music' rather than a musical, leaves audiences in no doubt as to the hardships and disappointments overcome by Sir Tom before his big breakthrough in 1965.

Tom, the Story of Tom Jones pulls no punches in revealing his early life in the Welsh Valleys; the Teddy Boy bravado, the macho drinking and fighting; the gigs in shabby  pubs, clubs and dance halls and, crucially, the unwavering determination to use his stunning vocal abilities to become a star.

Kit Orton in the lead role, combines acting talent with a knockout voice to whisk us back to those years in the late fifties and early sixties when a young Tommy Woodward was struggling to combine family life - he had married his childhood sweetheart Linda after she became pregnant in her teens - with belting out classic songs from the likes of Ray Charles and Emile Ford in small venues around his home town of Pontypridd. Linking up with local rock 'n' roll band The Senators and renaming himself Tommy Scott, he and his new sidekicks became hugely popular in the area.

With musicians Tom Connor, Alex Parry , Daniel Lloyd and Kieran Bailey - as The Senators - crammed onto a little concert stage at the rear of the set, it's possible for audiences of this new production to get a taste of just what it was like in those little South Wales venues in those early days.

The action moves along smoothly and entertainingly, linked by informative narrative from Phylip Harries, which succeeds in shedding light on Sir Tom's formative career without bamboozling us with a plethora of facts and figures, a style which some other similar productions would do well to copy. There is poignancy and plenty of finely-honed humour, with Elin Phillips giving a perfect performance as the long-suffering Linda, forced to stay at home while Tommy goes in search of fame.

 

The love between the pair is beautifully illustrated with a gentle version of Spanish Harlem, one of the finest interpretations of this classic song you'll ever get to hear. But that all-elusive breakthrough proves hard to come by. Rocking the rafters of the little venues of South Wales means little when it comes to national fame and glory as Tommy and the Senators discover, even when their dreams seem to have come true after signing with impresario Gordon Mills and moving to London.

Mills decides on the name Tom Jones for his new charge, but still there is no big break and even recording with whacky genius producer Joe Meek ends in turmoil and the boys are forced to live in a dingy basement flat on so little money that they are compelled to steal bottles of milk from the doorsteps of neighbours.

Tom reaches his lowest ebb and the play hints that he came within a hair's breadth of taking his own life while standing on a tube station platform. It's an intensely moving scene but heralds a change in fortune for the young singer, if not for his backing band. After recording a demo version of It's Not Unusual, they hear that the intended recipient of the song, Sandie Shaw, insists it is perfect for the original singer and, despite protestations by Mills, Tom has his way and the record is released. Within weeks it is number one in the charts.

It's the signal in the play for a wonderful medley of Tom Jones hits, with the entire cast on stage - several displaying previously unrevealed musical abilities. But there is no attempt to take the story any further.

This sensational production, as Welsh and homegrown as Tom himself - seeks only to tell his tale up to that long-hoped-for breakthrough. And in that it succeeds in all departments. The brainchild of theatre and TV writer Mike James, it is presented by theatr na nOg, and has set off on a national tour after being premiered in Pontypridd on March 1, St David's Day.

With its sometimes fruity language and gritty realism, it will be an eye-opener for many Tom Jones fans unfamiliar with his early life. There were many such people in the audience for the opening night at Windsor on Tuesday, particularly ladies of a certain age but , I must report, no sign of underwear being thrown on stage - a phenomenon once associated with Tom Jones gigs!

Tom, The Story of Tom Jones, is at The Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday April 5. Contact the box office on 01753 853888 or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk .