Sunday, 13 June 2021

REVIEW: West-End Musical Celebration at the Palace Theatre

Some of the finest voices in town get together to tackle some of the best songs in musical theatre. Whether The Sound of Music is your thing, or you prefer Jesus Christ Superstar; this show has it all. Mix that with an unfashionable level of talent on stage and you have a roof-raising recipe. 

West End Musical Celebration has pivoted from a Christmas to a summer celebration and boasts an exciting array of talent. Opening the show with a remastered ballad version of You Can't Stop the Beat, which quickly becomes the toe-tapping number we all know, is one of the producers of the event Shanay Holmes. Holmes is also our compare for the evening, and takes the musical limelight more than once, to my utter joy! 

This concert is unlike any other west-end show in that the audience are asked to play a role. We were encouraged, nay ORDERED, to sing-along, dance-along, and celebrate in the most raucous way we could. After 16 months of darkness along Sharfetsbury Avenue, it was a glorious tonic and an apt way to ring in the reopening of theatreland. That being said, I find all the encouragement and ‘I can’t hear you’ lines a little tedious unless it's at a pantomime. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that that is very much a reflection on ME and not on Holmes engaging, excitable, and energetic hosting. 

Alice Fearn took to the stage for the first time to perform ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line’ from Smash!, as a hat-tip to the government's treatment of theatres and the wider arts industry during the pandemic. But, like all the artists, Ferne wasn’t just there to sing one number. It’s not often an 11 o’clock number is so powerful that an audience are brought to their feet; I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen it happen (when Patti Lupone sang the line “everybody rise” in company, it would be downright rude not to!). When Alice Fearne performed the show-stopping Defying Gravity, it created another one of those moments. Her performance was utterly spellbinding, and I am so glad that, having missed her in Wicked, I finally managed to experience the powerhouse on stage! 

Layton Williams brought drag-realness to the stage by taking on the role of Lola in Kinky Boots and performing ‘Sex is in the Heel’. With a stunning plethora of backing dancers (Harriet Samuels, Poppy Radford, Sophia McAvoy, Laura May Buckley, Naté Williams, and Summer Villiers) he owned the stage and showed off his dance background, to whoops and cheers from the audience. Williams also closed the first act for us in style. The end of Act One is a medley of music from Lady Gaga, Soft Cell, The White Stripes, Britney Spears, and Eurythmics reimagined for the stage by Musical Supervisor, arranger, orchestrator, and lyricist Justin Levine. This was an exclusive preview of the Act 2 opening number of Moulin Rouge before the adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s film hits the west-end later this year. Williams had a chance here to completely unleash his intoxicating energy and exploded into each song both vocally and physically across the four-minute medley. 

One of the many joys of a concert like this is that you get to see flawless vocalists take roles they otherwise wouldn’t get a look-in for. Ben Forster (ex-Phantom and ex-Jesus, alongside many other brilliant roles) performs ‘Waving Through a Window’ with ease, showing that his exquisite voice can tackle the role, even if the beard might detract from the angsty-teenage casting required for the title role in Dear Evan Hansen! 

Contrary to this, we also got to experience and relive some of our performers most famous roles. Trevor Dion Nicholas reprised his Genie from Aladdin, Ferne showed us a less-green-than-usual Elphaba, and Williams was ably assisted on stage by members of the touring cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to perform ‘Don’t Even Know It’. 

Rachel John and Sophie Evans both take on a range of songs with ease and precision. Evans flips between the soft and gentle Somewhere Over the Rainbow to the rocky Don’t Stop Believing and even manages to play sickly-sweet and innocent for Suddenly, Seymour, a duet with Trevor Dion Nicholas 

Likewise, John jumps genres and styles from 60s musicals to 80s pop. At the point in the night where John is grieving around the stage to a classic Whitney number, the crowd were on their feet, matching her energy and really getting into the spirit of celebration. 

The evening was accompanied by a fantastic five-piece band featuring some of the fastest fingers in the west end! Chris Hatt was at the helm as MD, and performances were lifted with backing vocals from Reese Robinson, Yvonne Park, and Nicole Nearambi. 

As the second act came to its conclusion, the audience were calling out for more. The entire cast came back and hit us with a final number: From Now On. An over-used song, but worked perfectly in the context of this show and for anyone that hadn’t shed a tear already, the final song would have made that happen.

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: D22 | Price of Ticket: £58.50

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