Well, it’s that time of year again! Christmas TV is well under way and so we are welcomed into the Blackpool Opera House (via our screens) for this year’s Royal Variety Performance. With the stage set, and the virtual audience in their seats, the night fulfilled the show’s yearly promise of talent and festive cheer.
Jason Manford opened the show by journeying through the theatre to the stage, whilst singing Webber’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. A poignant and rousing start to the night. As Manford also hosted the Oliviers last month, it seems he is the voice of the theatre world at the moment. He used this position to present with humility, humour and class.
The show was filled with its usual spectacular line-up of stars. From Gary Barlow singing his new hit “Incredible”, (an adjective that could also be used for the stage and set design) to an insane acrobatic routine from The Black Blues Brothers. There was something for everyone to enjoy. The stand-out performances of the night, however, were from some of the lesser-known artists.
Viewers may have recognised the song “A Little Love” as John Lewis’ choice for their advert this year, and finally we could put a face to the voice. I found Celeste’s performance completely mystical and mesmerising. And speaking of mystical, we also got a sneak peak of the West End transfer of Frozen the musical. Samantha Barks took “Let It Go” in her stride and makes a beautiful, exciting Elsa. I was happy to see the flawless vocals were accompanied by a few magical, technical touches.
A name to look out for is Daliso Chaponda. His comedic style won the virtual audience over and I’m sure it did for the ones at home too. A definite one-to-watch on the comedy scene. Britain’s Got Talent winner Jon Courtenay also brought the laughs with his relatable references and witty rhyming.
It would be a crime not to mention Sheridan Smith’s stunning turn as Cilla. As we have seen her conquer this role in the TV series, she is bound to steal hearts all over again in Bill Kenwright’s musical tour adaptation. Her vocal power may be similar to Cilla’s, but what sells the performance is both women’s strongest assets; charm and likeability. The medley is a performance to cement her national treasure status.
Stealing the whole evening was a man not even present on the night; the incredible Captain Sir Thomas Moore. Singing along with Michael Ball and a choir of NHS workers, he appeared hovering above the stage on a giant screen. The arrangement of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” felt like the emotional climax that the whole show was leading up to. Other touching tributes were made to the people we lost this year in the “In Memorium” segment, and from Broadway star Marisha Wallace. Her rendition of “Tomorrow” became an anthem for the art sector during lockdown and felt even more powerful being performed live with such passion onstage.
What I found most impressive was that this year’s performance didn’t seem different to any other. It was as slick and enjoyable as expected and didn’t look affected by the restrictions at all. The lack of “royal” was made up for by the abundance of talent within the “variety”. As a musical lover, I do usually look forward to the West End numbers that fill the stage with their energetic ensembles. But I suppose Steps and their signature arm-ography will suffice this one time. Let’s just hope that the theatres are all back up and running soon, so we will have another Royal Variety to be entertained by next year.
The Royal Variety Performance 2020 is available to view again on ITV Hub for a limited time,
Reviewer: Coral Mourant
Reviewed: 8th December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★