Review by Raphael Kohn
As we reach the end of the year, the days become the shortest they’ll ever be, our lips have gone blue with the cold and Mrs Brown’s Boys is inexplicably blasted onto your retina yet again for another Christmas special by the BBC. Can anything save us? Can anything bring back some warmth and magic?
The answer to this question is the latest in a series of concerts produced and hosted by Shanay Holmes. Previous iterations included West End Musical Halloween, West End Musical Love Songs, and West End Musical Celebration, and returning this year is West End Musical Christmas. Imagine your favourite West End stars belting out your favourite Christmas songs smothered in sequins. But unlike whatever sparkly festivities you can conjure up in your imagination, this is quite something that really needs experiencing to be believed.
Part of what makes this concert series so fantastic is the way they effortlessly bring the audience into the action. Holmes calls the audience her ‘cast’ and encourages everyone to sing along to the songs. It’s a unique atmosphere and one that I will cherish in my memory for months to come and feels like it should soon become a rite of passage for all musical theatre fans to experience.
Kicking off the action was Shanay Holmes herself – the queen of the hour. Belting out Joy To The World with fantastic vocal power and control, effortlessly riffing her way through her tunes, Holmes would have been a stand-out performer if she had sung but half a song. She displayed remarkable versatility and subtlety in her medley of songs from The Sound of Music, with a gentle head voice floating over the band’s warm sound.
Laura Pick, a past Elphaba from Wicked, brought her signature belt to the Lyric theatre, with a fabulously characterful rendition of It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year in the second act being a truly stand-out performance.
Rachel John, who played Angelica in the Original London Cast of Hamilton, was a show-stealing powerhouse performer every time she graced the stage. With a soulful belt worthy of global recognition, her warm tones powering through O Come All Ye Faithful and Do You Hear What I Hear? were the absolute highlight of the evening. One can’t help but watch and want a full solo concert from her!
London’s original Heather McNamara, Sophie Isaacs, was a real treat tonight, bringing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Santa Baby among other fabulous Christmas numbers to life in style.
Joshua Williams came to this show as the new kid on the block, having won a competition at MusicalCon this year for the chance to perform at West End Musical Christmas. With this being his first time on a West End stage, Williams was justifiably a touch nervous but he showed great potential with his pleasant tenor. It was wonderful to see him loosening up in the second act with his playful performance of Rockin’ Robin, which was a fantastic chance for him to truly showcase his talent. I look forward to seeing his bright future realised on the stages of the West End in the years to come.
Bringing his iconic and wonderfully talented self to the stage was of course the remarkable Layton Williams. Strutting onto the stage in a Santa-inspired dress that was whisked off as he twerked and swirled while delivering a fabulous rendition of Jingle Bell Rock, this was pure triple-threat artistry at its finest.
Brought in last-minute to cover for Oliver Ormson, Sam Barrett brought stylish charm to the concert with his deliciously restrained and gentle rendition of White Christmas, while showing his control over the crowd in a wonderfully raucous I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, in which every single member of the 1000-strong audience was standing, dancing and singing along. It takes a true performer to have the audience in the palm of his hand throughout in the way he did.
Of course, none of this would be at all as brilliant as it was without the fabulous backing singers and dancers. The three backing singers, dressed in white and having the time of their lives could only be described as a vibe and were a great addition to the lineup, and it was almost a shame that they did not have their own number to really showcase themselves! The backing dancers were from the Addict Dance Academy and were all excellent. I look forward to seeing them on the west end stage full-time.
This was a fantastic night out at the Lyric theatre, hosted to perfection by Shanay Holmes and featuring a wonderfully diverse and talented group of stars. It’s very rare that you leave a theatre with such a smile on your face after spending a show on your feet, dancing and singing along, but the West End Musicals concert series has done it again and truly sleighed the house down.
Joy To The World – Shanay Holmes
Carols Medley: We Wish You A Merry Christmas/Jingle Bells/Deck The Halls/Rudolph – Shanay Holmes (and the audience)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Sophie Isaacs
O Come All Ye Faithful – Rachel John
The Christmas Song– Joshua Williams (West End Debut)
O Holy Night – Laura Pick
White Christmas – Sam Barrett
The Sound of Music Medley: The Sound of Music/My Favourite Things/Edelweiss – Shanay Holmes
One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas (from The Muppet Christmas Carol) – Joshua Williams
Jingle Bell Rock – Layton Williams
Santa Baby – Sophie Isaacs
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Laura Pick
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Shanay Holmes
You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch (from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) – Shanay Holmes
Do You Hear What I Hear? – Rachel John
This Christmas – Sophie Isaacs
Out Of The Darkness (A Place Where We Belong) (from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) – Layton Williams
Let It Go/Into The Unknown (from Frozen and Frozen 2) – Laura Pick
Rockin’ Robin – Joshua Williams
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Sam Barrett
Last Christmas – Sophie Isaacs
Merry Christmas Everyone – Sam Barrett
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Shanay Holmes
All I Want For Christmas Is You – All
Keep an eye out on https://www.instagram.com/westendmusicalbrunch/ for information on their future concerts.
You can also check out their famous West End Musical Brunch at https://www.westendmusicalbrunch.co.uk/
Photos by Bonnie Britain