This year was the second annual West End Heroes at the Dominion Theatre. Hosted by Christopher Biggins, this was a night of patriotism, passion and pride. Biggins has graced our screens for more than 40 years and is a much-loved face in show business. He brought charisma and character to the evening; his notoriously camp presenting style injected a real sense of fun to the night and he won over the whole crowd with his fabulous style; both in fashion and performance. Any man who can float into a show in a bubble with as much grace as Glinda the Good is worthy of the standing ovation he received at the end of the night.
The evening was led by The Central Band of the Royal Air Force who orchestrated all performances throughout the evening. They were absolutely sensational. The brass section in particular was outstanding, and every member, including the fabulous conductors, should be commended. They were also supported by the West End Heroes choir who performed both as their own group, but also as a support to other acts throughout the night.
The singing kicked off with The RAF Blue Belles; a trio of female singers who perform war-time classics such as "Oh Jonny" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". We were treated to versions of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and "Diamond's are a Girls' Best Friend". Credit to the girls whose voices blended beautifully in harmony, and who performed in perfect sync, even when hijacked by a cross-dressed Biggins who disguised himself as a member of the group!
The cast of 'Elf: The Musical' including Ben Forster and Kimberly Walsh performed a medley of high-spirited, comedic songs which won a fair few giggles. It provided an excellent taster for the production which looks like it will be a great family-fun musical filled with laughs; perfect for the Christmas season.
Mazz Murray then took to the stage and wowed the crowd with her powerful voice in her swing style adaptation of Dancing Queen/Waterloo. In a floor length, sequined, blue dress and sky-scraper "incredibly expensive" shoes, her knockout appearance matched up to her immense voice. She later joined Biggins and the Queen's Colour Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment in a marching routine and showed off just how sasssy she is! With hip wiggles and winks that Marilyn Monroe would be proud of, she was simply fabulous.
One of my highlights of the entire night was the mini Shrek reunion between Bradley Jaden, Aaron Lee Lambert and Kimberley Walsh. We've all experienced situations where song lyrics gain a new meaning and "Who I'd Be" from Shrek did exactly this last night. Bradley Jaden is one of the best vocalists I have heard live in a long time. He was the stand out male vocalist from the entire evening and together with Walsh and Lee Lambert, the trio gave a performance which was so amazing, I had tears streaming down my face as I became overwhelmed with emotion.
Just as I managed to stop sobbing, we were introduced a remarkable woman called Maurillia "Simi" Simpson. Ex-Servicewoman Simi served in Iraq 3 times, but was tragically injured while in Germany in 2010 while cycling to work. She sung "His eye is on the Sparrow" with Kate Leiper from the play "The Two Worlds of Charlie F". There was not a dry eye in the house by the end of this incredibly emotive performance from such an inspirational woman. In just a few minutes, she symbolised everything that the entire evening was all about.
Act One ended with a stunning showcase from The West End Heroes Dancerswho gave everything they had to their fabulous performance of ‘Be Our Guest’ featuring Biggins as a swinging chandelier! Just when I thought I'd seen their best, they opened Act 2 with Barnaby Thompson in ‘Tap your Troubles Away’ from Mack and Mabel. WOW. Super energetic, sharp execution, and smiles on every single dancers face throughout. It was really incredible!
Next up - Memphis. Now, you'll have to excuse me as I take a moment to get on my knees and bow down to Rachel John who delivered an absolutely flawless performance of "Colored Woman". In a pastel lilac gown, Rachel John looked like a princess, but sang like a warrior and she absolutely blew the roof off the Dominion theatre. What a powerhouse! She was then followed by her suited and booted co-star Jon Robyns who belted out "Memphis Lives In Me" and also delivered a stellar performance.
I would now like to commend The Royal Marine Corps of Drums who were phenomenal in several performances across the evening, but particularly during "Once We Were Kings" from Billy Elliott. Again, there was hardly a dry eye in the auditorium after this rousing and passionate performance from the drummers and the West End Heroes choir, as well as The Colchester Military Wives Choir. You could feel the emotion pounding through the performers’ hearts, and the audience was totally captivated for every moment of this wonderful performance. Later in the evening, the two choirs joined together again for a heart-breaking version of Abide With Me which was equally as poignant and moving. (I would just here like to add a quick personal thank you to my very kind neighbours in the stalls for comforting me as I sobbed my way through these performances!)
We were then treated to ‘The Music of the Night’ and the title song from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Phantom alumni John Owen-Jones showed us just how good you have to be to lead a cast through a West End run, a UK Tour, and a Broadway run. His chemistry with the sensational Celinde Schoenmaker was excellent, and together they gave the audience two breathtaking performances.
The evening began to draw to a close with a spell-binding magic performance from Jamie Raven who somehow managed to tear up a newspaper and put it back together in-front of an entranced crowd, and made a child LEVITATE! If that's not magic, I don't know what is. Following this was Squadron Leader Matthew Little's valiant effort of "'Til I Hear you Sing" and a stunning solo from Charlotte Jaconelli who sung the title song from "Love Never Dies" in a note-perfect rendition, accompanied simplistically by a piano. At just 19 years old, this soprano held her own against professionals who have been in the industry longer than she has been alive, so credit where it’s due – she was extraordinary.
El Ocho then took the crowd on a journey through the vocally demanding Bohemian Rhapsody and it was AWESOME before we were treated to the grand finale of a bugle led song composed by Captain A.C. Green which led into the whole cast uniting to sing "Do you Hear the People Sing?" led by the incomparable Bradley Jaden (who is currently starring as Enjorlas in Les Miserables at the Queen's theatre) which concluded the night in perfect, rousing West End fashion.
To see the best musicians in the military share a stage with the best of the West End really is a very special thing indeed. This show was not the Royal Variety Performance, as it did lack polish and there were occasional technical hiccups, but I wouldn't have changed a single thing about it. I laughed, I cried (a lot), I smiled and I danced along in my seat. It was the perfect night out, and for anyone who loves variety, it's a must-go-to event.
Help for Heroes aims to “Inspire, Enable and Support” ex-servicemen and women. Soldiers, sailors and airmen who are injured today will still need our support tomorrow and in the days that follow, for the rest of their lives. They are still battling and we should not let them battle alone. Please support this incredible cause by donating at http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/donate/
Review by Harriet Langdown