Originally planned to be A West End Musical Christmas, and devised by the producers of West End Musical Drive In and West End Musical Brunch, in association with Nica Burns, this all-star concert morphed into a celebration of the gradual re-opening of the West End after the 15-month enforced hiatus. The stellar cast of Ben Forster, Alice Fearn, Sophie Evans, Layton Williams, Rachel John, Trevor Dion Nicholas and Shanay Holmes represent the very best of what the West End has to offer and this show provides a great showcase for their talents.
There are many high points in a show full of great moments. John blows away the audience with “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, Dion Nicholas reminds the audience of what a perfect genie he was with Aladdin’s “You Never Had A Friend Like Me”, and Forster reprises “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Holmes tackles the phenomenally difficult “Listen” with aplomb and to a rapturous response. Fearn, shimmering in a gorgeous silver gown, gives a spectacular rendition of “Let It Go” from the upcoming production of “Frozen”. And then Williams and the cast of “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” knock the show up yet another gear with an outstanding performance from the show that will shortly (hopefully) set off on tour.
The intention for the audience to “become the cast” as part of what is billed as an “immersive” concert doesn’t entirely come off, the constant exhortations to “sing, dance and make some noise” feeling slightly uncomfortable in the midst of as yet unlifted pandemic restrictions and coming up against some reticence in the audience. And if the audience is expected to sing along, the show needs to be jam-packed with more of the musical numbers they know and love and which they can actually join in with. Even then, who sitting in the stalls would have the confidence to duet with Fearn in her ridiculously perfect version of “Defying Gravity”, even sotto voce? There are a few sing-along moments with Evans’ “Don’t Stop Believing”, the Holmes/John duet of “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt and the chorus of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Audience-participation does eventually kick off more fully during the second half, with everyone launching into the upbeat disco version of “One Night Only” and the stunning all-cast finale of “From Now On” from The Greatest Showman. Although even that is momentarily upstaged by Williams’ huge dusky pink tulle ballgown.
Holmes, who also produces, MCs the show, occasionally seeming to be thoroughly overwhelmed with the emotion of being back on stage and lost for words. That’s not surprising after this last year of turmoil, but at times the links between performers felt under-rehearsed. Nothing though detracts from the quality of the talent on show.
Alongside the stars, the show has atmospheric lighting, an excellent on-stage five-piece band, backing singers who more than hold their own, and a slickly energetic dance ensemble of six. Together they deliver a great celebration of the return of the West End, teasing the musical theatre tastebuds and leaving the audience just as it should, wanting more.
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 10th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★