Review by Daz Gale
An award-winning star of stage and screen made her London debut with a highly anticipated one off concert at the legendary London Palladium. Fresh from breaking the Internet with her BAFTA performance, Ariana DeBose was here to prove she is more than Angela Bassett’s hype-woman and to show us why she has an Oscar and a Tony nomination under her belt. The question we all want to know is – did she do the thing?
Ariana DeBose has seen her star rise hugely in the last few years – from originated an ensemble track in the Broadway production of Hamilton as The Bullet (look into what that character actually does if you aren’t already familiar) to playing Disco Donna in Summer to movie musicals The Prom and of course her Oscar winning turn in West Side Story, she has proven herself to be a varied performer who brings a consistent level of class and immeasurable talent to any role she plays – so the idea of seeing her bring her whole self to the stage in one concert sent Theatre Twitter into a meltdown when it was first announced last year. Thankfully, the show paid tribute to all her most iconic roles so far.
Titled ‘Authenticity’ this was a show about Ariana being true to herself and leaving nothing back. From admitting to using a teleprompter and announcing when a private conversation about fish and chips had made its way to the screen (you had to be there), she was true to her word, giving an unrivalled connection with the audience as she invited them into her “living room” – even if that did fit 2200 people in. With her stories charting the highs and lows of her career in a refreshing no holds barred approach, Ariana created a truly accessible performance that broke down the barrier between performer and audience. Instantly relatable (to an extent. I personally haven’t won an Oscar… yet) she really was all of us in a night that demonstrated her personality is every bit as big and wonderful as her singing voice. The fact she was donating her portion of the profits from the amazing merchandise on sale (Watch me wear my tote bag with pride) to Mermaids spoke volumes about what a beautiful person she is.
I’m sure you’re all wondering – did Ariana mention the BAFTA performance? She didn’t just mention it – she OWNED it. As her dancers entered the stage, the first time you heard Arianas voice was for the immortal line “Angela Bassett did the thing”. She then launched into a performance of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ where the rap was replaced with… you guessed it. She didn’t just faithfully recreate the performance, choreography and all, she encouraged an audience call the response. In their previous concerts over the past 12 months, Fourth Wall may have gifted us unforgettable nights with Audra McDonald and Jeremy Jordan but nothing could ever compete with the sound of a London Palladium audience shouting these now legendary lines back at Ariana.
With the genius that is Benjamin Rauhala as Musical Director, the setlist was as varied as you can expect with musical theatre mixed in with some pop classics and some of his distinctive musical mashups. We were treated to not one but two Madonna numbers, with a particularly beautiful rendition of ‘Ray Of Light’ among the many highlights of the evening, a Dua Lipa song and an inspired version of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ to the backing of Adele. Ariana also paid tribute to some of the greats who had played the Palladium stage before including Judy Garland and Liza Minelli with a particularly spine-tingling rendition of ‘Sorry I Asked’. There was one performance that everybody couldn’t stop talking about after it happened though and that belonged to the unexpected mashup of ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ from Company and ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ from The Little Mermaid. Donning glasses and a fur coat, Ariana gave us the Patti LuPone/Ursula hybrid every gay man has dreamed of in a truly fabulous performance that had no right being as good as it was.
With so many highlights across stage and screen, you would ask yourself if Ariana’s musical theatre history was all here you presume? While she may not have had her own musical number in Hamilton, she became her very own woman King to take on ‘You’ll Be Back’ while act one closed with a rousing performance of ‘MacArthur Park’ from Summer. Ariana revisited her role as Aylssa Greene in The Prom for the song named after her character. There was one thing we were all waiting for though and that was a bit of West Side Story where Ariana deservedly won all the awards for her stunning turn as Anita. When an electric guitar played the opening of ‘Somewhere’ as the show drew to a close, nothing could prepare us for the masterclass performance that was about to follow. From the acapella beginning to the satisfying climax, Ariana breathed new life into the classic that showed what an incredible performer she truly is.
As well as an incredible singer and actress, Ariana is also a remarkable dancer and she proved this with fantastic choreography through her numbers. Joined by four dancers, Aaron Renfrees choreography was a joy to witness – whether she was paying tribute to her beloved ABBA or giving the audience life with her disco Dona Summer moves, she was consistently awe-inspiring to witness. Allie Daniel and Claudia Kariuki provided backing vocals throughout and even joined her for a dance or two, joined by a glorious six piece band.
Ariana DeBose once again proved what a formidable talent she is. Not needing to be part of a big musical or in a movie, she can hold the fort all on her own. The fact she had her bestie Benjamin Rauhala by her side only elevated what a sensational evening this is. Benjamin himself is no stranger to crafting an exceptional show and with this one, he reached a new level of class. Between the on stage banter, Arianas unashamed determination to be as authentic as possible and of course her immeasurable talent, this was a night none of us in attendance will ever forget. Ariana DeBose really did do the thing – let’s hope we can get her back in London in the very near future (Somebody cast her in a West End musical) so she can do it all over again. What a phenomenal talent!
Vogue (featuring BAFTA rap)
Shall We Dance
Come Rain/River Deep Mountain High
Sorry I Asked
Black And Gold
Ray Of Light
You’ll Be Back
A Quiet Thing/Hand In My Pocket
That’s The Kind Of Woman
Ladies Who Lunch/Poor Unfortunate Souls
Don’t Start Now
Close To You
Ariana Debose brings her Authenticity show to Lincoln Center in New York on 8th April. Tickets from https://www.lincolncenter.org/series/american-songbook/ariana-debose--lessemgreaterauthenticitylessemgreater