Review by Daz Gale
Having wowed audiences in the West End, on Broadway and even on screen, Samantha Barks has been making the stage of the beautiful Theatre Royal Drury Lane her home for the past two years in her fantastic role as Elsa in Frozen. Not content with performing there 8 shows a week, she returned to that very stage on her night off but this time as herself. Would she be able to show herself to the same effect or should she not have bothered anyway?
If you aren’t familiar with Samantha Barks, she first rose to prominence as a contestant on BBC’s talent show ‘I’d Do Anything’ where she came third in the competition to play Nancy. Her roles include Eponine in Les Miserables both in the West End and in the movie, originating the role of Vivien in Pretty Woman on Broadway and of course being the (Ice) Queen of the West End as Elsa. She has also been a regular fixture on TV as a judge on All Star Musicals and the soon to be seen full circle moment as a judge on reality competition Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream. With all that to her name, it is no wonder why Samantha has become one of the most recognisable names in musical theatre in the West End, so the prospect of a full concert from her and her immeasurable talents felt like something that was not to be missed.
The concept for this concert was originally billed as a celebration of musical theatre from the last decade. While there were offerings from quite a few recent musicals, this theme was quietly discarded to allow Samantha to sing classics from musicals over the past several decades. Numbers from newer musicals Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls and Waitress were mixed in with older shows including Chess (the only show to be represented more than once).
In the early part of the show, Samantha weaved a narrative together through the songs as she told about how she started out and her days growing up. Punctuated with songs ‘Waving Through A Window’ and ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ these stories stopped midway through act one which I personally thought was a shame as it gave more depth to the musical choices and made the whole thing feel less random. An especially beautiful rendition of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ from Mamma Mia! was responsible for a particularly emotional moment as Samantha told about her love for her grandmother who got her into theatre. A shorter and more random by comparison second act lacked moments like this but kept the one consistency that is Samanthas breathtakingly beautiful voice.
To call Samantha Barks an exceptional talent would be a severe understatement. Her vocal abilities seemingly knows no limits and frequently wowed the audience throughout the course of the evening as she sung some truly classics potentially making them sound better than ever before – never wavering even when battling sound problems throughout. Highlights included a rousing ‘What Baking Can Do’ and act one closer ‘Never Enough’ from The Greatest Showman.
When it came to revisiting roles from her illustrious career thus far, Samantha didn’t disappoint, delighting the audience with ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ from The Last Five Years and the moment everybody was waiting for with a truly beautiful ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables. Anyone hoping for something from Frozen would need to let it go as she reserved those numbers for the other nights she is on that stage, though she did honour Elsa ending the show with a medley of ‘Into The Unknown’ and ‘Show Yourself’ from Frozen 2 (Can we start the petition for a stage adaptation of that now please… to go along my endless campaign for a Frozen West End cast recording).
One former show Samantha didn’t perform songs from is Pretty Woman though she did get to reunite with her former co-star Orfeh for not one but two very different songs. The powerhouse performance that was ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ and a particularly incredible ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Chess were two of the highlights of the night and introduced Orfeh’s incredible vocals to a possibly previously unaware West End audience. Samantha’s other guests were fellow Les Miserables alumnus Bradley Jaden for a beautiful rendition of ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once and The Overtones who followed their own set duetting with Samantha on ‘Stars’… though the Simply Red song and not the Les Miserables one as the gasp in the audience after the title was introduced led many to believe.
With this concert, Samantha proved what a sensational performer she is. Full of charm and a smile that never leaves her face, she gives a genuine warmth that makes any song she chooses to perform a true winner. Her stories at the beginning of the show added an extra layer to the songs and perhaps I would have liked a bit more of that in the second half but that doesn’t take away from the sheer excellence of her voice and ability to make any song her own. A fantastic night for any lover of musical theatre and a shining example of just why Samantha Barks is effortlessly capable of delivering a monster performance, this show proved that, even without Elsa's crown, Samantha Barks is still a Queen.
How Far I'll Go
Waving Through A Window
I'd Rather Be Me
I'm Not Afraid Of Anything
Slipping Through My Fingers
What Baking Can Do
Falling Slowly (Duet with Bradley Jaden)
I Know Him So Well (Duet with Orfeh)
No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) (Duet with Orfeh)
Stars (Duet with The Overtones)
I Can Do Better Than That
On My Own
Into The Unknown/Show Yourself
Photos by Danny Kaan