The Theatre Channel has been one of the most exciting projects to come from this year. One of the various ways creatives have come up with to keep theatre alive, the Theatre Channel sets all (well, most) of the action in the Theatre Cafe and insists on high production value for each song giving us some unique performances.
Episode four has been released today and is called 'Hopeful Holidays' - more than just a Christmas episode, it has been carefully picked to reflect on the year and give us some optimism for 2021. As with previous episodes, I have had the chance to talk to the creative team as well as one of the performers, Rachel John, to give more of a insight into these performances.
The episode features some festive favourites such as Sophie-Louise Dann's jolly rendition of 'We Need A Little Christmas' from Mame, a joyful rendition of 'Turkey Lurkey Time' (making a rare appearance after its iunforgivable outing on Glee) from Mary Poppins herself Zizi Strallen - complete with fantastic choreography from Bill Deamer. Matt Croke and Tosh-Wanogho-Maud perform a fantastic duet on a new arrangement of 'Happy Holidays' and 'Let's Start The New Year Right' from Holiday Inn.
Manon Taris does a heartfelt rendition of 'Ave Maria' from Notre Dame de Paris. A song that was included by producer Adam Blanshay as a deliberate spiritual moment of reflection of the year we've had and all the people we have tragically lost this year including that shows producer Charles Talar.
One song you might not necessarily associate with the holiday season is 'Seasons of Love' from Rent. The song is performed by recent graduates from ArtsEd to give them an opportunity to perform after graduating into an industry which is currently in an interval with an uncertain future.
Cassidy Janson has popped up at a few Christmas concerts in recent days. Her performance of 'White Christmas' in this episode is easily the best one. Placing Cassidy behind a piano is magic waiting to happen and she didn't disappoint. Showing a softer tone to her voice, Cassidy proves her versatility with a performance that will ironically melt your heart, if not the snow... should it ever fall. The new compositions in the series are by Michael England - he spoke of what a particular joy this arrangement was for Cassidy - simple, effective and simply stunning.
Backed as always by the series' own ensemble 'The Cafe Four' the perfomances always spring to life and are cleverly and innovatively staged in a space that changes more times than the Government's Tier system.
The highlight of the episode was undoubtedly a rousing perfomance of 'Brand New Day' from The Wiz performed by the sensational Rachel John. Adam Blanshay talked about this song turning into an anthem signalling the re-opening of theatres - you would need a heart of stone not to feel something when Rachel and a cast of young performers burst from the front door of The Theatre Cafe into the nearby Duke of Yorks theatre and bound on to that empty stage to give it a much needed burst of energy. This is meant to signal optimism and hopefulness for theatre to resume live performances in the New Year.
Rachel spoke about her experience recording this performance, saying the message is to "look forward, look up and look out" sharing that message of hopefulness. She said when the doors opened in to the theatre it gave her a renewed sense of honour of what it feels like standing on a stage, what the experience evokes in people and what theatres are for. Her message while performing the song was "Come with us. There is going to be a tomorrow". This sequence was filmed the day after it was announced London was going into Tier 3 and theatres would have to close again, so if it feels like the performers are leaving everything they have on that stage, you know exactly why.
I asked Rachel what the song 'Brand New Day' meant to her. She told me that The Wiz was a staple at home when she was younger and she would always watch it with her family. As a kid she loved The Wizard of Oz and always wanted to be Dorothy, so seeing Diana Ross in the role in the movie meant a lot to her as it was somebody with the same hair she had. Rachel described the song as an anthem of the birth of all things which resonated in her heart. Director and Choreographer Bill Deamer spoke of how eerie it was to first go in to a dark, cold theatre that had mot been used for months but how it became a joy when it was full of life with this performance.
Rachel summed up her feelings on this performance with by saying "We can create beautiful art out of really dark times" which is a summary of what the team have attempted to do with this entire series but particularly this episode.
Rather than give us the tried and tested Christmas standards, the creative team have thought outside of the box to create an episode which ties into the holiday theme but with an underlying message of hope for the future after what has been a terrible year for so many of us. In doing so, they have created a beautiful episode full of amazing, cleverly produced performances, The idea behind this series is to bring people together, the creative team, the cast of performers and the viewers. We may not all be able to be in the same room together at the moment but with clever editing you can feel like you are right there with them.
This is four great episodes in a row from The Theatre Channel and the perfect remedy for the year we've had, particularly this episode which has come in an extremely challenging time. Their aim was to put smiles on peoples faces and comfort them in these dark times. I think it's fair to say they've well and truly succeeded.
Episodes 1 to 4 of The Theatre Channel are available to stream from http://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel
EPISODE FIVE PREVIEW
2021 will see at least another six episodes of this series with episode five landing on Friday 29th January. It's theme is 'The Golden Era of Broadway'. The creative team said they are tackling the golden years but are trying to avoid anything that is too predictable. There will be songs from Gypsy, West Side Story and Rodgers & Hammerstein but have hunted at songs you might not expect and perhaps even some rarer gems.
The cast they have got on board for this episode are Freddie Fox, Bonnie Langford, Mazz Murray, Marisha Wallace, Gary Wilmot and Michael D. Xavier. Song choices are still being finalised - the problem they are having is trying to do something completely different as these performers can sing literally anything. Bill Deamer promised some very magical moments.
Looks like we'lll have another amazing episode in store!