Friday, March 1

West End Unplugged: Vol 1 – The Shows Must Go On

As a die-hard musical theatre aficionado, by far and away the best part of lockdown for me has been a little thing called “The Shows Must Go On”.

For many, these words mean nothing more than a whimsical credo, very much a theatrical take on the British saying “Keep Calm and Carry On”. However, “The Shows Must Go On” is also an aptly-named YouTube channel dedicated to “bringing you showtunes, backstage access and full performances from some of the best loved musicals in history!” – so for me, it’s been a lifeline, a much-needed (if socially-distanced) ticket back to the magical world of theatre.

During the Coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world and kept most of us out of work, out of pubs and restaurants, and crucially out of the theatres, “The Shows Must Go On” has stoically carried on, each week providing some welcome theatre therapy for many – whether that’s a makeshift socially-distanced concert with some of the West End’s biggest stars, or reruns of some of musical theatre’s most memorable live performances. All for free, from the comfort of one’s very own living room.

North West End UK have had the chance to review some such offerings – including From Here to Eternity, Fame (30th Anniversary Production) and Live at the London Coliseum with Carrie Hope Fletcher – and to date they have never failed to disappoint.

This weekend’s offering was a little different – a brand new series called West End Unplugged – and unfortunately, was the first and only one that has failed to hit the right note.

As the name suggests, this 75-minute show was an intimate performance with some of West End’s rising stars, all taking to the microphone in what looks like a large living room to belt out some musical theatre sing-alongs.

However, I must admit, I was a little disappointed from the get-go – Not only did the line-up lack the lustre that I was expecting, the set-list for me also left quite a lot to be desired.

It seemed almost a musical melee – if this performance were an album, this would have most definitely been the b-side, not just in terms of track selection, but dare I say from a performer perspective, too.

Case in point: the most recognisable songs of the 11 performed were Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ from Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ Superstar’s breakout classic ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ from Abba’s jukebox musical Mamma Mia!

For sure, some fantastic songs – but for a performance that promised the audience a celebration of “the very best of London’s West End Musicals”, it left me quite unmoved.

Each of the six performers had a very distinct flavour and flair,  making each song their own in a way that only a true talent can do – there is no question that there was some real talent on display in this performance, but for me the whole show felt a little disjointed, slow, and dare I say boring in parts.

The premiere of West End Unplugged certainly packed a lot into such a small space of time and such a small setting – I just couldn’t help wanting that little bit more.

West End Unplugged – Vol. 1 is available for 48 hours on YouTube via the link below:  

Reviewer: Hannah Wilde

Reviewed: 13th November 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★