Sunday, 21 February 2021

REVIEW: West End Musical Drive In starring Shan Ako, Maiya Quansah Breed, Shanay Holmes and Layton Williams

Last Summer, when theatres were closed and audiences were desperate for their fix of musical theatre, households flocked to car parks and fields across the country for a COVID-safe drive-in alternative. Here, West End Musical Brunch presents a concert somewhere between Glastonbury Festival and West End Eurovision.

Founder Shanay Holmes opens the show with Fabulous, Baby from Sister Act, and comperes throughout. Filmed during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, she references BAME industry representation throughout and proudly welcomes an all-black cast for this particular concert. She encourages the audience to be actively anti-racist whilst singing This Is Me, all the while providing brilliant vocals. Her hosting skills could be honed but she does a great job and is incredibly warm.

Layton Williams is the headliner this time around and delivers material from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (joined by his West End and UK tour castmates), Rent, Hairspray and Kinky Boots. He definitely feels at home in this environment and is clearly enjoying performing in this kind of setting.

Fresh from the Les Mis concert, Shan Ako also joins the cast, opening with On My Own, before treating us to She Used To Be Mine and her original song, Brave Heart. Her vocals are always faultless, but it’s refreshing to hear something different and to see Ako in a different light.

Just when I found myself craving something more unique, Maiya Quansah Breed gave a punchy rendition of Simply Joys from Pippin. These star-studded events are becoming very predictable, mostly using the same material. Yes, audiences expect their favourite performers to sing the songs they are famous for, but I’d like to see some different repertoire thrown into the mix. The audience loyalty is there, so this is the perfect platform to champion new writing or to revive forgotten and overlooked shows.

There are times when the vocals feel a little uncertain, but this must be down to singing in a large outdoor space, which is incredibly challenging. I’m sure the audience experiencing the concert in the flesh wouldn’t have noticed, but it is hard to ignore when watching the streamed event.

I have no doubt that devoted musical theatre fans, particularly the younger generation, will love these concerts from the West End Musical Brunch team. An enjoyable watch, but the content could be more interesting.

Review by Ian Marshall

Rating: ★★★

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