Tuesday, April 23

Everyone’s Talking About Musicals – Liverpool Theatre Festival

If, like me, you’re mad about musicals, “Everyone’s Talking About Musicals” is the perfect antidote to the humdrum of everyday life, a feel-good elixir that lets you escape reality and become submerged in the wonderful world of musicals – if only for a brief interlude.

Produced by Pearson Productions & Curtis Productions, this show is the second of 16 specifically curated shows that make up this year’s second annual Liverpool Theatre Festival.

Designed to kick off the city’s autumnal live entertainment calendar (1st – 12th September 2021), this celebration of the regional arts was first put on in 2020 as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s offering was a 9-day festival of drama, comedy, musical theatre, opera and cabaret designed to give the stagnant performing arts sector a kick start. The festival was such roaring success – attracting over 2,500 live entertainment fans to Liverpool, the UK’s former ‘Capital of Culture’ – that the Liverpool Theatre Festival will now be an annual event.

Now in its second year, the Liverpool Theatre Festival has proved bigger and better than ever, with 16 productions and 23 performances across 12 days. “Everyone’s Talking About Musicals” is the second show in the festival set list, and – like all the rest of the festival – is held in the breath taking and stunningly atmospheric St Luke’s Bombed Out Church in the heart of the city.

Bona fide West End stars shared the stage with burgeoning, up-and-coming talent from the Liverpool Theatre School to bring the audience a riotous celebration of all things musical theatre – a 75-minute singalong spectacular from all the musical theatre big-hitters. The show was largely carried by a primary cast of 4 singers and 2 dancers, who together have starred in some of the West End’s biggest and best-loved shows.

Marcus Collins was arguably the biggest draw of this event – runner up in The X Factor 2011, and with a Top 10 studio album under his belt, Collins is now a regular on the musical theatre circuit, having major roles in both Hairspray and Kinky Boots. His dynamism onstage was magnetic as he regaled the audience with songs from those hit shows, including “Run and Tell That” and “The Land of Lola”. (Extra kudos to Collins for performing the entirety of his Kinky Boots number in high heels as his alter ego Lola – not an easy feat for even the most experienced professional!)

Joining Collins as the other male voice in the company was Craig Ryder, whose classic musical theatre training and vast onstage experience was evident from the moment his first note was struck. With theatre credits including Bat Out Of Hell and We Will Rock You (amongst others), Ryder had crowds clapping, swaying and singing along to the titular rock anthems for these shows – and looking like he enjoyed every minute of it!

Deliciously contrasting – and superbly complementing – the male contingent were Gillian Hardie and Chloe Taylor, both powerhouses in very different ways. Taylor’s soft yet sweet voice was perfectly matched to songs from Mamma Mia and Dirty Dancing, while Hardie’s strong, sonorous voice was put through its paces in more difficult numbers like Wicked’s notoriously challenging “Defying Gravity”. I think Hardie struggled in places to keep the tempo at the beginning of the song – probably concentrating on gearing up to the treacherous Top F note in the song’s finale which defies the vocal range of even the most seasoned songstress – but she certainly grew in confidence as the concert went on.

A true standout for me was the duet between Gillian Hardie and Craig Ryder in their spine-tingling rendition of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – Ryder gave a perfectly nuanced delivery, but I could not keep my eyes from the haunting performance of Hardie, who made such a notably difficult song her own.

Huge praise is reserved for the dance troupe who really brought these performances to life, led by Annie Winstanley and Stephen Conroy. Their interpretation of oft-challenging choreography was electrifying – perhaps one of the most enjoyable moments of the whole piece was their beautifully choreographed dance to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, that in parts looked like it defied gravity (no pun intended!).

If I had to be critical of the show, I’d say in places the stage was a little bit too cramped to hold a show bursting with as much energy as this one – but that was more than mitigated by the performers’ innovative use of the walkway to connect with the audience sat the back of the church. As far as the set list goes, I would also have liked to have seen some of the singers put through their paces a little more by taking on different songs rather than a repertoire of songs they know like the back of their hand. The company are obviously a talented bunch, so why not challenge them a little more (and give the audience a little something they weren’t expecting)?

That said, every time I looked around the packed, dilapidated church, the audience was lapping up every minute of the show. The song choices evidently went down a storm with everyone in the crowd, as almost every single person – from children under 10 to parents and grandparents (and even this musical theatre-loving critic!) – sat, stood, stomped, clapped, whistled, and swayed their way through 75 minutes of pure, unadulterated fun delivered by current and future stars of the stage.

All in all, a perfect way to spend a Saturday night in central Liverpool – and I will be waiting anxiously to see it all again next year!

The Liverpool Theatre Festival continues at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church until 12th September 2021. For more information about what’s on and how to get tickets, you can visit the official Festival website here:  https://www.liverpooltheatrefestival.com/

Reviewer: Hannah Wilde

Reviewed: 4th September 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★