The much loved West End Musical Brunch has adapted itself over the last year in creative ways to keep theatre alive - most famously creating the brilliant series of West End Musical Drive In concerts. They planned to move indoors last year with a series of concerts at the Palace Theatre called West End Musical Christmas. No prizes for guessing that didn't happen. To quote another show that took residency in that theatre last week - The Show Must Go On! After a few false starts, they are finally ready to celebrate the return of theatre with a newly adapted show, fittingly called West End Musical Celebration.
The branchild of Chris Steward and Shanay Holmes, who was also one of the performers of the night. Holmes told the adoring audience she had dreamed of producing a show at the Palace Theatre before fittingly performing 'When You Believe'. Clearly emotional at returning to the stage, Shanay's words made the performances all the more special knowing what it clearly means to her.
Joining her on the lineup are six heavyweights of musical theatre. Over the course of two hours we were treated to a celebration of musicals in every sense of the word, revisiting some of the most timeless songs from the world of theatre. Highlights included Rachel John following Shanay's speech on colourblind casting by delivering a rousing rendition of 'Don't Rain On My Parade' as well as bringing the house down with a sensational performance of 'Home' from The Wiz - her grin during this number was infectious as she clearly relished in the fact that she was finally back home on a stage.
Sophie Evans made sure there was not a dry eye in the house for a beautiful version of 'Over The Rainbow' "To remind us of the hope we so desperately needed" while Alice Fearn took 'They Just Keep Moving The Line' from Smash! and gave it new meaning as we likened it to the current situation, wondering when theatres will be ble to reopen at full capacity.
Some of the stars revisited their former roles for some special performances. Ben Forster returned to his roles in The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar, Trevor Dion Nicholas channelled his inner Genie for 'Friend Like Me' declaring "You didn't think you could have a Disney moment without me, did you?" while Alice Fearn delivered one of the standout performances of the night, returning to the role of Elphaba for a note-perfect 'Defying Gravity'. Hearing that iconic song back on a West End stage where it belongs was a powerful moment that resulted in a spontaneous mid-show standing ovation.
The ever-shy Layton Williams appeared in a series of extravagant outfits to deliver some of the most memorable moments of the evening, including ripping off his trousers for 'Sex Is In The Heel' from Kinky Boots (The third Lola song he has performed in recent months. Surely that role is in his future?) and act-one closer 'Backstage Romance' from Moulin Rouge complete with impressive dancing that only Layton could do, highlighting his versatility and immeasurable talent.
With an ensemble of dancers providing choreography and stunning outfits, it helped to add to the glitz and glamour of this show, ensuring this was more than just a standard concert. The grand scale felt fitting for a venue such as the Palace and only added to the ambience of the evening. Audience participation was encouraged, and when we obliged the request to get off our feet and dance, it felt like a release - shaking off the troubles of the past year and finally returning to some sense of normality and offering us pure escapism.
The most emotional moment came at the very end of the show when the seven performers united on stage for a version of 'From Now On' from The Greatest Showman. The song took on a new meaning during the various lockdowns, becoming an unofficial anthem for our longing to return to the theatre. When the cast sing "And we will come back home" you can't help but feel moved by it.
Early on in the evening, Shanay commented "This is your celebration as much as it is ours". Truer sentiments were never had. Being in a room with likeminded people sharing a love and respect for theatre, it was hard not to feel close to the performers even with social distancing in place. The knowledge we are all in this together and have gotten through a tough time to see theatre gearing up for its glorious return meant this was the celebration we have all been waiting for.
Shanay Holmes - You Can't Stop The Beat
Ben Forster - The Music of the Night
Sophie Evans - Over The Rainbow
Rachel John - Home
Alice Fearn - They Just Keep Moving The Line
Trevor Dion Nicholas & Sophie Evans - Suddenly Seymour
Layton Williams - Sex Is In The Heel
Ben Forster - Waving Through A Window
Alice Fearn - Defying Gravity
Shanay Holmes & Rachel John - When You Believe
Layton Williams - Backstage Romance
Trevor Dion Nicholas - Ease On Down The Road
Shanay Holmes - Listen
Rachel John - Don't Rain On My Parade
Alice Fearn - Let It Go/Into The Unknown
Trevor Dion Nicholas - Friend Like Me
Ben Forster - Superstar
Layton Williams - And You Don't Even Know It
Sophie Evans - Don't Stop Believin'
Rachel John - I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Shanay Holmes - One Night Only
Company - From Now On
West End Musical Celebration plays at the Palace Theatre until Sunday 13th June. Tickets are available from nimaxtheatres.com