Review by Daz Gale
When West End performer Tosh Wanogho-Maud unassumedly questioned on the social media website formerly known as Twitter if there would be any demand for a solo concert from him, he severely underestimated the response. The result saw his intimate solo debut at Piano Smithfield sell out in one minute with two additional dates also selling out instantly. Those who have experienced Tosh's talent in his variety of West End credits knew this was one show they couldn't afford to miss, but would he manage to captivate and charm the audience as effortlessly when he wasn't playing a character?
Tosh has endeared himself to West End audiences with his scene-stealing and show dominating turns as Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls, Ben E. King (and others) in The Drifters Girl and David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud, wowing at every turn with his inimitable vocals and ability to embody a character, draining every last ounce of heart, emotion, personality and humanity from each one. The phrase "he could sing the phone book" (ask your grandparents) comes to mind but in Tosh's case, this is completely true. As somebody who has been awestruck at Tosh's performances every time I've been lucky enough to see him, I couldn't resist an opportunity to see what he comes up with when he was deservedly front and centre in his own show. The resulting show didn't disappoint.
In ‘Songs + Stories', Tosh showcased his talents through a varied and often surprising setlist which showcased the versatility in his voice. A tender and unlikely rendition of ‘What Was I Made For’ originally by Billie Eilish for the Barbie movie was a highlight of the set and a true testament to the power of Tosh’s voice and intelligence behind his choices to channel even the most unlikely of subjects into something deeply moving and resonating. Other highlights in the always unpredictable but consistently brilliant setlist including Jason Mraz’s ‘Geek In The Pink’ and a cover of Teddy Swims ‘Lose Control’. With the wonderful accompaniment of two backing singers and a 3 piece band, the sound that came from a packed tiny stage at Piano Smithfield was always glorious.
Of course, Tosh’s musical theatre credits got a mention from the beginning, kicking off with a performance of ‘Fake Your Way To The Top’ from Dreamgirls in a bit of nostalgia that reminded me of the first time I witnessed his sheer talent for myself and why he was such a star in that show. He revisited his time in The Drifters Girl with a stunning rendition of ‘Stand By me’, a timeless and classic song that he has managed to make his own through his own inspired choices throughout. For his most recent West End show, Ain’t Too Proud, we were treated to three vocal highlights from the show including show standout ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ and the truly iconic ‘My Girl’. Anyone who caught the recent one night only concert production of Batboy would remember Tosh’s musical highlight ‘A Joyful Noise’ which got another outing here, bringing a bit of church to the evening in a rousing performance.
The lucky and intimate audience were treated to a look into the future of Tosh’s career as he debuted two songs from a musical he is writing with his partner, Nick Gardner. With an exploration of the relationship between a father and son in ‘The Tide of Someday’ and a truly poignant and painfully honest number, inspired by George Floyd in ‘In My Dreams’. Both numbers showcased the talents of both Tosh and Nick and why this future musical is one to watch out for. Nick also got his own time to shine with a performance of his own original song ‘Hold Me Down’ demonstrating an incredible musicality and phenomenal voice himself… even when battling a cold.
It is fair to say the West End is bursting with talented performers, many of whom have incredible vocals. Tosh seems to take the limits of what is humanly possible to achieve through singing and obliterates all competition. The range he boasts on him is like nothing I have ever heard before – just when you think he can’t go any bigger, any louder or any higher, he manages it in a range that seemingly knows no boundaries. Range is the key word here as Tosh’s voice really can do anything with his solo set demonstrating the soulful quality, the raspy nature, his falsetto and even his impeccable ability to rap in a performance so impressively talented, it was almost sickening… in the best possible way of course.
The evening was billed as ‘Songs + Stories’ and it was the stories that elevated the show past the already brilliant nature of the musical performances. Tosh’s ability to connect with an audience is unrivalled with an honest and authentic approach to speaking that manages to feel like he is speaking to every member of the audience on a one on one basis. His ability to transcend the barrier between performer and audience gives the sense you are watching an old friend on stage and, as such, you hang on to every word he says. From the beautiful way he spoke about his mum and his partner to the stark honesty that introduced the evening as he revealed his fear to not hide behind a character and perform as himself, culminating in the affirming message to embrace the fear and the inspiring way he talked about championing Black stories, Tosh has an effortless way to penetrate the soul with his words.
I can think of few performers who manage to connect as sensationally as Tosh does. He happily wears his heart on his sleeve and his humanity and zest for life is palpable. Tosh may have put off doing a solo show for a while as he feared how an audience would respond to him just being himself on the stage. He needn’t have worried as Tosh performing as Tosh is even better than any character performance he could have done. Very clearly one of the most talented people on this Earth, it feels like not enough people have woken up to the sheer magnificence of his talents as yet in a performer who at time still feels criminally underrated and deserving of every plaudit going. ‘Songs + Stories’ showcased even more talents in a well-crafted and flawlessly executed concert. While his career thusfar has been nothing short of impressive, if this concert was anything to go by, the future is going to be even bigger and better.
Fake Your Way To The Top (From Dreamgirls)
Lose Control (Teddy Swims cover)
What I Was Made For (Billie Eilish cover)
The Tide Of Someday (Original Song)
My Girl (From Ain’t Too Proud)
Geek In The Pink (Jason Mraz cover)
A Joyful Noise (From Batboy)
I Wish It Would Rain (From Ain’t Too Proud)
Georgia (Emily King cover)
Hold Me Down (Nick Gardner original song)
In My Dreams (Original Song)
Stand By Me (From Drifters Girl)
Losing You (From Ain’t Too Proud)
Tosh Wanogho-Maud plays one more ‘Songs + Stories’ concert (for now) at Piano Smithfield on Monday 4th December though this is sold out.
Keep an eye on www.toshwm.com for future show announcements