Review by Daz Gale
The West End Musical series returned to its occasional West End home of the Lyric theatre for the first installment of 2022 and what better way to kick things off than an evening dedicated to all the greatest love songs from the world of musical theatre - on Valentines Day of course.
If you've never been to a West End Musical concert before, this is like no other concert. Audience participation is encouraged - singing, dancing, even shouting things out at the host during the evening. This is built upon their successful West End Musical Brunch series which is now a regular fixture. From this, they have done West End Musical Drive In performing a series of outdoor concerts during the pandemic when that was the only way live performances were allowed, before returning indoors for Celebration and Christmas concerts.
Produced by Shanay Holmes who also compèred the evening, what sets this apart from other concerts is the setlist. Like the Christmas concert that preceded it two months ago, West End Musical feature a combination of some of your favourites with some unexpected surprises thrown in to the mix. Songs from movie and stage musicals filled the evening, with the second act focusing more on jukebox musicals - a great excuse to bring out some of the greatest love songs from many well loved artists. Surprising moments included Nikki Bentley's one-woman version of 'Backstage Romance' from Moulin Rouge and inclusions from The Wedding Singer and Yentl. A host of incredibly talented dancers joined in for some of the uptempo numbers with precise choreography from Ben Alexander which lifted the performances to a whole other level.
Some of the West Ends finest were on hand to deliver these classic numbers. Sam Barrett paid tribute to Stephen Sondheim and showed off his silky smooth vocals on 'Maria', Shan Ako delivered brilliant renditions of Bob Marley and Whitney Houston classics while Jon Robyns got the party going with 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' even if it did lead to him declaring to the enthusiastic audience "I'm singing this, not you". Jodie Steele told how she had auditioned for Mamma Mia eight times but never made it through before bringing the house down with a rousing 'Lay All Your Love On Me', Shanay Holmes showcased her incredible range on numbers from Dreamgirls and Thriller while Emma Hatton gave us her best Tina on 'The Best'.
What makes any West End Musical concert special is its once in a lifetime duets, and tonight was no exception. We had a double dose of Elphaba on 'For Good' from Wicked, performed expertly by Nikki Bentley and Emma Hatton - the latter also did a beautiful version of 'Beauty With The Beast' with the phenomenal Jon Robyns. Natalie May Paris and Sam Barrett teamed up for a beautiful 'Come What May' while the undoubted highlight of the evening was a quite frankly ridiculously amazing version of 'Take Me Or Leave Me' from Rent, performed by Jodie Steele and Shanay Holmes. Jodies vocals never fail to blow me away but she seems to outdo herself every single time, hitting notes I didn't think were humanly possible on what is surely one of the greatest vocals I have ever witnessed on a West End stage.
Much has been said about theatre etiquette since everything reopened last year. However you feel about audience members singing and dancing during a show, it is not only encouraged here - it is demanded! As someone who usually gets put off by the old dear next to me giving it her best Frankie Valli, i couldn't help but embrace it here. West End Musical... provides a safe space - one that offers complete escapism and an immersive experience that breaks the barriers between performers and audience. I couldn't help but be charmed by this evening of unashamedly absolute fun.
"The biggest message we wated to spread is love" exclaimed Shanay Holmes, and what a way to do it. The love of musical theatre, the love of talented performers, the love of being in a sollective space with everyone out to have a good time. I couldn't have loved it more if I tried. Pure joy from start to finish, there really is nothing like these concerts to ensure you leave with a huge smile on your face. My third outing to one of these West End Musical concerts and the third one I have completely adored. Bring on the next one!
Shanay Holmes - Love You I Do (Dreamgirls)
Shanay Holmes - My Funny Valentine (Babes In Arms)
Sam Barrett - Maria (West Side Story)
Nikki Bentley - Somewhere (West Side Story)
Nikki Bentley & Emma Hatton - For Good (Wicked)
Natalie May Paris - The Way He Makes Me Feel (Yentl)
Natalie May Paris & Sam Barrett - Come What May (Moulin Rouge)
Jon Robyns & Shan Ako - Grow Old With You (The Wedding Singer)
Shan Ako - Is This Love (Get Up Stand Up)
Jodie Steele & Shanay Holmes - Take Me Or Leave Me (Rent)
Sam Barrett - Unchained Melody (Ghost)
Emma Hatton & Jon Robyns - Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
Shanay Holmes - I Will Always Love You (The Bodyguard)
Shanay Holmes - The Way You Make Me Feel (Thriller - Live)
Jon Robyns - Can't Take My Eyes Off You (Jersey Boys)
Natalie May Paris - Let's Hear It For The Boy (Footloose)
Jodie Steele - Lay All Your Love On Me (Mamma Mia)
Nikki Bentley - Backstage Romance (Moulin Rouge)
Sam Barrett - The Power Of Love (Back To The Future)
Sam Barrett & Nikki Bentley - You're The One That I Want (Grease)
Shan Ako - I Wanna Dance With Somebody (The Bodyguard)
Emma Hatton - The Best (Tina)
Jon Robyns & Shanay Holmes - (I've Had) The Time Of My Life (Dirty Dancing)
West End Musical... will be back at the Lyric theatre for more special concerts later this year. In the meantime, check out their famous West End Musical Brunch at https://www.westendmusicalbrunch.co.uk/
Photos by Bonnie Britain