Last month, two of the West ends finest announced a new charity concert in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Waitress, Dear Evan Hansen and Dreamgirls star Nicole Raquel Dennis teamed up with Motown's Ryan Carter to create 'Turn Up'. At the time, Dennis said "Turn Up! is something that we've needed in London for a long time. Black voices need to be heard and celebrated now and forever. Hopefully this will be the start of many more celebrations to come".
The concert was filmed as live recently in the stunningly beautiful Cadogan Hall with some other performers filming in isolation. There was no shortage of stars signing up with some of the very best from both the West end and Broadway footing the 89 (!) strong bill.
There really was no shortage when it came to stars signing up to take part in this incredibly special concert, featuring once in a lifetime performances and unique collaborations, this was a solid 2 hours of musical theatre greats and songs from various genres of music interspersed with poetry and readings.
So let's talk about the performances. If your jaw was already wide open by the time Sharon Rose finished her opening number 'Don't upset the rhythm', it was somewhere on the floor by the time Layton Williams, Marcus Collins and Rachel Adedeji closed the show with 'Ain't no mountain high enough'. It's hard to believe inbetween that were a further 20 musical performances and even harder to believe that every single one was a 10/10 masterpiece.
The show featured unique collaborations including show organiser Nicole Raquel Dennis forming a special trio with her Waitress and Dear Evan Hansen co-stars Kelly Agbowu and Natalie Kassanga for a rendition of 'I'm Every Woman', while &Juliet's Melanie La Barrie teamed up with Tanisha Spring for 'Impossible/It's possible' ensuring all of Twitter cried out for a Cinderella revival with that dream casting. Danielle Steers could sing the Wagamama menu and it would be a joy to your ears, so her teaming up with Claudia Kariuki for a rousing performance of 'Enough is enough' was always going to be a standout moment.
As well as countless standout performances, the show also made history not once but twice. 'I Know Where I've Been' is one of the most emotional and greatest songs in musical theatre. Getting not one, not two, not three but FOUR of the incredible women who have played Motormouth in Hairspray to perform it together was always going to be ridiculously phenomenal but even that was an understatement. Brenda Edwards, Sandra Marvin, Sharon D. Clarke and Johnnie Flori delivered four of the best minutes of the year with their iconic performance of the song, simultaneously managing to hit all the vocals while conveying the raw emotion and importance the storytelling of their song deserves.
I said the show made history twice. The second time came in the form of 'For Good' from Wicked. One of my personal favourites, this song never fails to make me cry but this version? Boy, wasn't I ready. Teaming up Alexia Khadime and Brittney Johnson was a stroke of genius. The significance of this is Brittney Johnson is the first black woman to play Glinda on Broadway while Alexia Khadime was the first black Elphaba. Knowing the struggle that can occur trying to get cast in roles predominantly played by white people made this performance truly moving, and a long time coming. I'm not exaggerating when I say this performance will go down as one of my all time favourites.
I could go on for ages about the details about every single performance (and I'm tempted to) but I will restrain myself and just mention a couple of other standout performances for me. Cedric Neal is one of my favourite musical theatre performances - whether it is Motown, The View Upstairs or Back To The Future. I could quite happily watch him sing anything, he'd probably even make a one man revival of I Can't Sing watchable - so pairing him with a Stevie Wonder Classic was a match made in heaven.
Another honourable mention has to go to Rachel John for her mesmerising performance of 'Colored Woman' from one of my favourite shows Memphis. Rachel played the alternate Felicia in the show, but it's hard to imagine anyone singing this incredibly powerful song with as much honesty and integrity as she managed in this performance.
This wasn't just your normal concert where singers sing songs with no meaning - there was hidden depth to most of the song choices, telling of the struggle people are still facing and the prejudice that still inexplicably exists to this day. This made songs that carried a great deal of emotion at the best of times even more heart wrenching. If the goal was to draw more attention to an issue that isn't always as prominent in the public eye as it has been in recent months due to tragic events, they not only achieved it, but excelled in the matter. Nicole said her goal was to allow black voices to be heard and celebrated. Done and done. How could anyone not hear those voices? Apart from the fact they all had vocals for days, we all heard what they were saying - and with some incredibly powerful poetry and monologues throughout, the message came through loud and clear.
Needless to say, I loved every single minute of this concert. A massive congratulations to Nicole Raquel Dennis, Ryan Carter, Club 11 and everyone who played a part in creating this absolute masterpiece. What they achieved in such a short amount of time was nothing short of legendary. This will go down as one of the greatest theatre moments of the year.
If you missed it last night, you have two more chances to see it, tonight (Saturday 11th) and tomorrow (Sunday 12th) at 7.30pm both nights. Tickets cost £10 and will be the best £10 you ever spend. All proceeds go to The Okra Project, The Black Curriclum, UK Black Pride and The Bail Project. Tickets are available from https://www.club11.london/turn
If you are unable to pay, search #TurnupLondon or message twitter.com/club11ldn as people are very kindly donating tickets. Trust me, this is something you are not going to want to miss. My only advice would be to make sure you have a box of tissues on standby.
To put it simply, 'Turn Up' is one of the single best things you will see all year. When things slowly return to normal, I hope they can recreate this special concert with a live audience as nothing would keep me away from that.