The Theatre Channel returned this week with the third episode in its 10 part series. If you haven't been following the series, it is the latest initiative from The Theatre Cafe in their bid to keep theatre alive even when the doors remain closed. Teaming up with Adam Blanshay Productions, they have created a series of unique content, completely recorded and filmed in its location on St Martin's Lane utilising every nook and cranny the space has to offer. I will be following the series on All That Dazzles along with conversations with the creatives and performers each episode.
The theme for episode three is Rock Musicals. With songs from Jagged Little Pill, RENT and Jesus Christ Superstar among others, they were spoiled for choice with songs for this episode. Opening with 'Aquarius' from Hair from the series' very own ensemble "The Cafe Four" consisting of Alyn Hawke, Emily Langham, Sadie-Jean Shirley and Alex Woodward. With special effects transporting you back to the 1960s, the foursome set the tone perfectly and set the bar high for the other performers to match.
Jagged Little Pill was the next rock musical to get the Theatre Channel treatment. Based on Alanis Morissette's classic album, the musical opened on Broadway last year and will hopefully make its way over here at some point. Francesca Jackson, most recently seen in Tina delivers a powerful version of act one closing number 'Forgiven' with a goosebump-inducing performance. One tidbit the creatives behind the episode shared was the connection Francesca has to Elizabeth Stanley. Stanley plays Mary Jane in Jagged Little Pill and this song is one of her big numbers. Both Stanley and Jackson played the role of Dyanne in the Broadway and West End productions of Million Dollar Quartet bringing a satisfying bit if symmetry to this performance. If this performancr is aything to go by, Jackson playing Mary Jane when the show comes to London would be brilliant casting.
The way The Theatre Cafe transform the space in ever-changing and innovative ways for each performance is a stroke of genius, and turning the venue into a Church for 'Forgiven' was a stroke of genius and managed to bring a bit of the Broadway show over here for the first time.
Next up was a bit of Jesus Christ Superstar. 'Gethsemene' is not only one of the most challenging songs to sing in musical theatre, it is also an iconic number. Who better to get to perform it than Rob Houchen. With one of the greatest voices the West End has to offer, Houchen hits the ridiculous high notes with ease. The staging for this number was also stunning. While technically not inside the cafe like the other performances, the use of Trafalgar Square created a beautiful backdrop and gave the song the grandeur it truly needs. It was made all the more impressive with the knowledge the shoot began in the freezing cold at 5.30 in the morning.
The second Tina star of this episode came from current leading lady Aisha Jawando. Taking a break from Tina Turner songs, Jawando tackles 'The Acid Queen' from The Who's Tommy. One of the staples of this series is pishing performers out of their comfort zones and giving them songs not in their repertoire that they would never usually sing. This is one of the unique selling points of this series and what makes each episode so unmissable.
Next up was Alex Gaumond with a beautiful rendition of 'Le Monde est Stone' from Starmania. Don't let the fact it is in French put you off - the song was truly stunning and the lyrics translated make you appreciate the beauty of it. Not a musical I'm familiar with, this musical was influenced by Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair making its inclusion in this episode all the more perfect.
Gaumond said Starmania was his introduction to musical theatre and he relished the opportunity to sing in French - something he so rarely gets the chance to do. With this performance he got to tap in to a deep connection to his childhood. More used to performing at the Globe Theatre, he treated this like a Shakespeare soliloquy delivering an internal monologue with the audience.
The challenges of filming performances in this ever-changing Covid world presented itself during this episode, none more so than during this particular performance. Alex recorded his vocals before having to go back to France and self-isolate when he returned meaning he didn't get to film his performance until weeks after he recorded the vocals. This year has shown us how undefeated the creative industry are when it comes to keeping theatre alive even when the rules keep changing - this performance and indeed this episode is a testament to that.
This week, one musical we have all been talking about is RENT thanks to the Hope Mill Theatre production debuting its stream. With impeccable timing, Les Miserables star Shan Ako tackles the shows most emotional number 'I'll Cover You (Reprise)'. Switching the gender to a song more typically sung by a male brings something new to the song. Shan delivers a gentle and touching performance full of sentimentality that is worthy of the brilliant song.
The final performance of the episode comes from another Les Miserables cast member and living legend John Owen-Jones singing 'Pity The Child' from Chess. Closing the show in a way only he could with his unmistakable and legendary vocals.
This was the third brilliant episode in a row, with some fantastic staging and inspired song choices. The use of playing talented people against their type pays off perfectly making this another amazing 40 minutes of theatre.
I asked if the second lockdown caused more problems for the creation of this episode. Producer Adam Blanshay told me they had to make a contingency plan with performers filming from their homes before they got the green light to go ahead but for 48 hours this episode wasn't going to happen at all and be pushed back to next year. Adam is thankful for the new ways this year has pushed him to tell stories. Even during lockdown, the theatre cafe has continued to be a stagey hub with people coming on site to work each day due to projects such as The Theatre Channel.
Director and choreograopher Bill Deamer said "The need for live theatre must never be forgotten" and talked about that while this has had to be the norm for now, things are going to change and they are ready for when it does. His personal challenge is to keep upping the game every time making each episode even better than the last.
So what does the future hold for this series?
Episode 4 will be a "Holiday special" covering not just Christmas but all festive holidays. Due to land on Friday 23rd December, the performers taking part and song choices will be announced this Monday 30th November so look out for that. While future episodes have yet to be finalised, future themes were hinted at including The Golden Age of Broadway for episode 5 in January and a potential British invasion theme in another episode.
The first three episodes are available to purchase and view on demand from thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel. Once purchased, you are able to view each episode an unlimited amount of times, and believe me, you're going to want to watch each one more than once.