Everyone knows that there are plenty of festivals for more mainstream music, but were you aware that there is a festival for show tunes? Well there is. Once a year, London’s Trafalgar Square heaves with musical theatre fans, dancing and singing along with their favourite musicals. West End Live is an event that brings the vast majority of London’s musicals together as each show is given a slot to perform numbers from their shows. With performances from some of London’s biggest shows such as Les Miserables and Wicked, along with performances from musical theatre stars, it’s no surprise that West End Live is so popular and is considered one of the biggest London events of the year.
The huge added bonus? It’s all free.
Saturday 18th June 2016 – West End Live opens to the public
One problem with the event being free is that if you want to get a good place and a good view, you have to be willing to get up and join the queue early. On saying that, I’m always a little confused when they open the gates and tell you not to run. If you don’t run, what’s the point of getting up early to get a good place in the queue? If you not run, someone further back in the queue could end up getting a better place in the crowd then you? And that just isn’t fair. Okay, in all seriousness, it’s not easy to run down the stairs down to the stage, but I’ll admit to speed walking to keep my good place.
The event on the Saturday starts at 11 ‘o’ clock, but some very serious fans started queuing from 4 in the morning! I joined the queue at around 8, ready for the gates to open at 10:30, and was quite near the front. I would suggest sitting down in the queue, even though it does feel a little strange to be sitting on the ground outside the national gallery, but once you’re in there and have a good place it’s extremely hard to get a chance to sit down and rest your feet. Also, read the small print on the website. There are two entrances into West End Live, A and B; entrance A is at the Canada House end of the square whilst entrance B is at the end facing towards Charing Cross. The website states that one gate will open before the other, I’m not sure whether this varies each year.
Once the gates had opened, and I speed walked to the stage, I managed to get about four or five rows back from the barrier which was great. After what felt like a very long half an hour of the same few adverts playing on the big screens, there was an almighty cheer when the first show took to the stage to get everyone excited and dancing
Motown The Musical
With songs such as ‘Stop…in the name of love’ and ‘Dancing in the streets’, it isn’t any surprise that Motown is proving very popular at the Shaftesbury Theatre. If I remember rightly, the booking period was extended before the show had even finished previews. Well, it certainly got everyone excited and ready for the day ahead bringing what seemed to be the whole cast onto stage to get everyone dancing.
Crazy for you
As well as the big West End Musicals, West End Live also acts as a platform for new shows and revivals coming into the West End, other theatres, and UK Tours. This was the case for Crazy for you. Tom Chambers came to the stage to perform a number from the show as well as telling the crowd about this revival and having a joke around with the hosts Lisa Vickery and Roberto. I last saw Tom back in 2014 in the Dominion Theatre’s production of White Christmas so it was nice to see him again promoting a new musical role.
Now, this is where people really started to get excited. Wicked, the untold story of the witches of Oz, is one of the biggest and most popular shows in London and this love for the show was clear when it was announced that they were up next. I wasn’t sure if they could beat their performance from last year which saw Emma Hatton as Elphaba performing ‘Defying Gravity’ from the roof of Canada House but this years performance was great. It was nice to see some different songs performed as Emma Hatton as Elphaba and Oliver Saville came to the stage to perform ‘As long as you’re mine’. Emma was then joined on stage by Savannah Stevenson as Glinda to perform ‘For good’. It was great to see them on stage on full costume, including the amazing ‘bubble’ dress.
There was one problem. I’m short. And there was a very tall guy in front of me who insisted in holding his large camera out to the side. Therefore, I couldn’t get much good film or photographs of the cast of Wicked, or Phantom for that matter when the camera came back up again. Thankfully, he did agree to lower the camera so I could see my favourite Kinky Boots. Plus, he left after Phantom. But I guess that’s the downside to a festival, there is always going to be someone taller then you.
Surprise Guest – Aladdin’s Trevor Dion Nicholas
Another thing that West End Live is extremely good at is bringing surprises onto the stage, whether this be a show doing something that you would not expect or, in this case, bring on a surprise guest. When Trevor Dion Nicholas (AKA the genie from Disney’s Aladdin playing at the Prince Edward) was brought onto the stage the crowd went crazy. Along with an interview talking about MasterCard Priceless Aladdin competition, he was also persuaded to give a blast of ‘Friend like me’… Acoustic. What a voice!
Okay, I have to be perfectly honest here, Showboat is never a show that has interested me but I will say that it was performed very well. It was lovely to see Gina Beck live for the first time and ‘old man river’ was very powerful but it isn’t a show that I am personally interested in seeing.
Charlie and the chocolate factory
The cast of Charlie and the chocolate factory took to the stage to perform ‘Queen of pop’ which was good and catchy, and the young girl playing Violet had a great voice and was a good dancer. Then it was time for ‘Pure imagination’. It was great to see Willy Wonka in colourful full costume. I hope to see this show if/when it tours the UK.
Okay, I’ll admit, I might be a little bit biased when it comes to this one. Kinky Boots is currently my favourite of all the musicals playing in the West End. I’ve seen it three times, including twice in a matter of three days. I simply love it. It’s so much fun, full of tonnes of energy as well as loads of heart. I was excited to hear that they would be performing the finale ‘Raise you up/just be’, as with their other public/television performances they have performed ‘sex is in the heel’ or ‘Everybody say yeah’ which don’t feature the entire company unlike the finale.
They came to the stage with their full light up background and amazing costumes, including the fabulous boots. It was nice to see 2nd cover Lola Arun get the chance to perform for this many people. The performance was power to the understudies really with Tim Prottey-Jones coming on as Don. Also, whilst I’ll admit to being slightly disappointed that it wasn’t Killian Donnelly on as Charlie (as were others as he is a favourite of many – especially me), Paul is a great performer and brought Charlie to the stage with lots of energy and personality. The cast of Kinky Boots really got everyone going and cheering along, bringing the fun of the show to the West End Live stage.
P.S the interview after was brilliant. Michael Hobbs describing that the shoes were far too easy to get used to and Roberto asking all the angels about their make up routines. Maybe Roberto secretly wants to be an angel.
The musical based around the band The Kinks, Sunny Afternoon always seems quite popular at West End Live. Admittedly, it does have songs that most people know the words too. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. Yes, the tunes are familiar but I don’t know the words. The numbers were performed very well and everyone seemed to enjoy it but like Show Boat, Sunny Afternoon is not a show that I am personally interested in seeing.
One of the biggest cheers of the day was for, of course, Les Miserables. Running in the West End for nearly 31 years and still one of the biggest and most popular musical productions. And despite the shows age, the cast came to the stage with something new. Last year at West End Live (and in most public performances I have seen), it is either ‘I dreamed a Dream’ or ‘Bring him home’ is performed first followed by an ensemble number. This time, Rachelle Ann Go and Eva Noblezada came to the stage to perform a beautiful ‘mash up’ of ‘I dreamed a Dream’ and ‘on my own’ before they were joined by the cast to perform ‘One Day more’.
You can’t fault this classic show, it’s as rousing as it is heartbreaking and I think it will always be a West End Live favourite.
Who doesn’t love to see a kid performing their heart out? That’s something you are always going to get with Matilda. In this case, it was Zaris on in the title role performing ‘Naughty’. And she performed it very well, full of energy, which is a given with this show. As lovely as it is to see ‘Naughty’ performed, this is always to go too number for public performances. I, for one, would love to see ‘Revolting Children’ performed for example. I would be nice to see the other kids not in the title role given the chance to perform to such a big audience in a public arena.
The Phantom Of The Opera
Maybe 2016 was the year for trying something new at West End Live? This was definitely the case for Phantom. Now in its 30th year in London, like Les Miserables, Phantom has always been a popular performance at this event yet often always brought the same performance to the stage ‘wishing you were somehow here again’ followed by ‘music of the night’. As great as that is, you should have heard the cheer when the ensemble came to the stage dressed in all sorts of spectacular costumes for ‘Masquerade’.
That wasn’t the only something new they tried. No, following the snippet of ‘Masquerade’, Lisa-Anne Wood and Ben Forster came onto the stage as the music boomed for the title song ‘Phantom of the opera’. Soon after they were joined by Scott Davies, Jeremy Secombe and Peter Lockyer. That’s right, four phantoms. It was incredible to see.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Another show with lots of hit shows that a lot of people know as least some of the words too. It seems a hit at West End Live. It’s full of energy and dancing, great for the festival atmosphere and everyone was enjoying it. I, personally, don’t know a lot of Carole King’s story, and only know a few of the songs but I would love to see the whole show to learn more and enjoy it in its entirety.
A guaranteed West End Live hit, Mamma Mia comes to the stage full of fun and boundless energy. I’ve seen the show twice, and absolutely love it. A performance of the title song ‘Mamma Mia’ gets everyone energised and dancing and, of course, everyone loves to see the spectacular costumes on the dynamos and even more on the three dads for ‘Dancing Queen’. That’s guaranteed to get a cheer and a laugh. Now, these are songs that most of the crowd know the words too and everyone was singing along.
After their performance, the cast of Mamma Mia were invited back onto the stage to join the hosts in a tribute to those affected and lost in the Orlando attacks. With their costumes matching the iconic rainbow flag projected onto the big screens, the cast and the hosts (By this time Lisa Vickery and Toby Anstis) in a touching minute of applause.
Dressed in the iconic red suit jackets, the Jersey Boys came to the stage with their library of hits including ‘Walk like a man’ and ‘Oh what a night’. The Jersey Boys are always popular at this event, with their great catchy tunes and fun filled performances. Everyone was dancing and singing along, really getting into the party atmosphere. After all, who can resist singing along when it comes to the Frankie Valli solo ‘Can’t take my eyes off of you’ ?
As West End Live often runs at the same time as the Udderbelly Festival, acts from the Udderbelly often get the chance to promote their acts in front of the West End Live crowd. This was the case for the cast of Gobsmacked, a acapella and beat boxing group. With an amazing cover of bohemian rhapsody followed by an incredible beat boxing display, they were definitely a hit with this crowd.
Now, if I had to choose a show currently running in the west end as my least favourite, it would sadly be this one. Yes, the music is great and the dancing is incredible but, for me at least, that’s about it for the show. In the snippets I’ve seen at various public/television performances, I have not seen any trace of a story. It appears as more of a concert then a show. Also, unfortunately, during this performance it was obvious that it was lip synced. It didn’t appear that any effort had been made to cover up this fact. At one point, there was one girl singing but you could hear a male voice. Because of this, I have no interest in seeing this show. Also, why was thriller given 25 minutes when much better shows only got 10? After 25 minutes (on both days) you don’t feel the need to see the show, they’ve performed snippets of nearly every number!
Pirates Of Penzance/Jesus Christ Superstar
Up next were two more previews for soon to opening shows; ENO’s Pirates of Penzance and Regent Park Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Unfortunately, these are two shows that I really don’t know that much about or had much interest in ever seeing. Nevertheless both of the performances were good and I’m sure they will both be popular when they open.
The Wedding Singer
The Adam Sandler movie has got the musical treatment and by the crowds reaction here, it appears it’s going to be a big hit when it tours the Uk next year (I already have my ticket for when it comes to Plymouth). With Jon Robyns and Cassie Compton coming to the stage to perform numbers from the show, a collection of eighties hits, everyone seemed to be loving it.
This was the last performance of the day I saw as I left after to get ready for a evening show of Titanic. But in conclusion, it was a great day of musical fun and spectacular.