11 months after theatres up and down the country were forced to shut their doors, the BBC announced a season of shows celebrating all things musical theatre culminating with a big concert filmed at the London Palladium. This felt like a fairly big deal as all things considered, theatre is a neglected art form when it comes to mainstream TV. Aside from the token "Musicals week" episodes of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing On Ice, it doesn't really get a look in on the main channels. This is the kind of concert you would expect to see shoved on to BBC Four at 3am on a Tuesday morning, but no - primetime on a Sunday night on BBC One is where you would find Musicals: The Greatest Show. And what a show it was!
First aired on BBC Radio 2 the week before, highlights from the concert made its way to TV in a concert so well received, it was the top trending topic on Twitter and got over 4 million viewers. Cast members from most of the biggest West End shows including Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton and Six were among those joining some theatre legends on the world famous Palladium stage, alongside some special guests phoning in from around the world.
The use of space of the theatre was quite creative - the performers unusually were facing away from the audience. This created a sense of grandeur as you saw the full scope of the beautiful venue behind the performers. It also led to some real mixed feelings - joy at the stage being alive with live music once more - a real juxtaposition to the heartbreak of the sight of all of those empty seats and the eerie quietness after each performance. Every one of the people pouring their heart out on that stage deserved a round of applause but fate meant they were cruelly denied it. Six made use of social distancing rules by performing in the audience, which was also the home to the fantastic ensemble (consisting of Sarah Accomando, Nicole Baisdon, Jonathan Bentley, Beth Berwick-Lowe, Jon Boydon, Ian Carlyle, Dean Chisnall, Scott Garnham, Erin Hair, Emma Hatton, Jenna Lee James, Sejal Keshwala, Connor McAllister, Joel Montague, Nathaniel Morrison and Miria Parvin)
There really wasn't a bad performance in sight (Yes, I saw those comments on a certain duet but I am choosing to gloss over it) - Held together by the always wonderful Sheridan Smith (not the sausage, I assure you) who also kicked things off with a return to perhaps her most famous role in 'Funny Girl'. Lea Salonga proved why she was one of the all time greats with a stunning rendition of 'I Dreamed A Dream' from her home in the Phillipines, while Nicole Scherzinger might as well have been singing "Don't cha wish you could sing like me" with a phenomenal performance of 'Never Enough'.
It wasn't just the old classics that got the spotlight. Everybody's Talking About Jamie has been a recent sensation and only looks set to grow with the release of the movie - Layton Williams proved why it is up there with the best musicals with a lovely rendition of 'The Wall In My Head'. We also got a glimpse into the future with a cut from Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical Cinderella. It may have had its opening delayed but it gave us a hopeful insight into how promising the future of theatre is. Newcomer Ivano Turco managed to match the legends who preceeded him on stage with an incredible performance of 'Only You, Lonely You' from the show.
Mamma Mia may get a hard time by some theatre fans but who could deny the joy it brought with an unashamedly upbeat performance of 'Dancing Queen'. A one man performance of 'You Can't Stop The Beat' by Michael Ball kept the joyous mood going... even if he might have benefited from his co-stars helping him out to give him a break from the 525,600 words in the song. Upcoming star Jac Yarrow put on his coloured coat once more to join the Nation in a singalong of 'Any Dream Will Do' - if you weren't joining in at home, you are doing life wrong.
It feels unfair to single any performances out as they were all so incredible. However, single out I will as there are five performances that deserve a special mention:
One of the most beautiful songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber's most iconic shows. The Phantom of the Opera may have been strangely missing from the BBC's Top 20 Greatest Musical Songs countdown but thankfully it was present here. The always sensational Ramin Karimloo delivered a mesmerising performance of 'The Music Of The Night' and managed to give us all goosebumps - even from behind the screen.
Kerry Ellis and Wicked go hand in hand. When The Voice was on BBC One back in 2012, the judges didn't turn around for her, and the night before this aired, another amazing contestant failed to get any judges turn with her performance of 'Defying Gravity' on ITV, so it felt fitting that Kerry Ellis and 'Defying Gravity' had the last laugh by closing the show on primetime TV - performed by a bonafide star in what was one of the standout performances of the night.
Speaking of The Voice, since appearing on it just two short years ago, Nicole Raquel Dennis has seen her star rise quickly. From being an understudy in Dreamgirls to an ensemble role in Waitress to a main (if underused) character in Dear Evan Hansen back to full circle in the forthcoming tour of Dreamgirls where Nicole will be leading the production as Effie. In this performance she proved why she deserves every success. 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going' isn't an easy song to sing by any means - overdone and incredibly difficult, it is also ridiculously recognisable so it seems far easier to get it wrong than get it right. Nicole well and truly smashed it! Insane vocals matched with vulnerability and emotion led to a performance worthy of a mid-show standing ovation. Seeing her in Dreamgirls is going to be something special.
Nicole made another appearance joining her Dear Evan Hansen co-stars for one of the most emotional songs in musical theatre that has taken on a whole new meaning in the last year. 'You Will Be Found' is always a moment - I have never been able to sit through the song without shedding a tear (or 100). Not helped by the fact Sam Tutty has the voice of an angel and can dig right into your soul as he channels the emotion in the song. If the number is a pivotal moment in Dear Evan Hansen, it was a massive moment in this concert. The feeling I felt during these four minutes was a true testament to how important theatre is - where else could you experience that? Euphoric, hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time, 'You Will Be Found' was a pivotal moment in the concert. I dare say many feel the same as it is currently sitting at number one on the iTunes chart. A musical theatre song hasn't dented the chart since 'This is me' so if it does chart this week, it will be a true reflection of how crucial (and viable?) theatre is.
Aisha Jawando. That is all.
Ok, I'll say more but really that would say it all.
For this concert, a brand new arrangement of 'The Best' was created. Never heard before, it was a truly stunning version that needed a massive talent to truly do it justice. Step forward, Aisha Jawando.
If playing Tina Turner in a musical about her life isn't daunting enough, how do you follow Adrienne Warren - the woman who originated the role on both the West End and Broadway productions and was nominated for Olivier and Tony awards for it? The answer is with ease! In this performance, Aisha told us all we needed to know about how much she misses being on that stage. She spoke for every single person who works in theatre or simply loved theatre. The perfect embodiment of what a good performance can do, Aisha left it all on that stage wih her complete star quality. As if her vocal range wasn't insane enough, she hit a whistle register. Even Mariah Carey would have dropped her jaw at the range this girl has. To say she is a star in the making would be an understatement. To say this was THE performance of the night is completely justified.
What a concert this was. I think I speak for every theatre fan in the country when I say it was so desperately needed. Being unable to go to the theatre to see performances like we witnessed here has made life all the more empty. Ths well and truly filled a hole - a suitable fix until we all get back where we belong.
The production was flawless - from the staging to the lighting to the sound - every box ticked. What made this so special was the outpouring of love you could feel from everyone responsible for it. Every performer gave their all on their stage and made it clear how much theatre means to them, and you got the sense that feeling extended to everybody behind the scenes on the show.
Well done to the BBC and everybody involved and thank you for giving us this truly beautiful and essential show. Now can we please get more like this? Musicals shouldn't be on primetime TV once in a blue moon and it certainly shoudln't take a global pandemic to celebrate them. The viewing figures, social media and general feedback have proved just what an appetite there is for content like this. How about losing a couple of repeats of Mrs Browns Boys each week and creating a new weekly musicals show? At the very least, give us an album of these performances as some of them are too good to not listen to repeatedly.
For now, if anybody ever says they don't understand why people love musicals and asks you why you love them, play them this show and watch them enjoy 80 minutes of pure perfection. It might come as a surprise to some but this really was the greatest show.
Musicals: The Greatest Show is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.