The weekend of June 22nd 2013 dawned somewhat overcast but this did not seem to deter the crowds of people queueing around Trafalgar Square, some of whom had arrived at around 6am for a prime position. The Square was fenced off and behind the barriers were the huge stage, nice and high so that everyone could see the performances, a couple of big screens for those further back and around the edges some tents with various uses – some for promotions, some for shows and the one for TKTS near the stage for people to buy tickets to whichever shows took their fancy from those showcasing. I have to say, the TKTS booth definitely seemed to be doing a roaring trade, it was jam-packed every time I went past it.
The buzz was noticeable and it took no time for the Square to fill up once the crowds were allowed in. It was clear that everyone was really excited to see a preview of what the West End has to offer. The nicest thing, for me, is that the performers were all those who actually put on the performances night after night, so it gave everyone the chance to see the actual casts and the shows almost as they would be if they were in their respective theatres. There was a huge turnout once again, both of West Enders and of the general public. It’s fantastic to see how popular musical theatre is – it is certainly showing no signs of dying a death.
Compered by Matt Wilkinson and Lisa Vickery onstage, with Katy Federman in amongst the crowd, they kept the event running smoothly with a few facts about each show beforehand and helping to keep the crowd geed up using techniques such as Mexican waves (not that they needed any encouragement). Kicking the event off were ‘The Beatles’ – that is to say, the stars from ‘Let It Be’, the musical history of one of the biggest and most influential bands to date. Rocking the audience with hits such as ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Help!’ West End Live could not have had a more lively start. I adore the Beatles, I have been a fan for many years as I grew up listening to them. I am, therefore, slightly skeptical of any ‘tribute’ acts or similar. I have been stalling on seeing this show for that reason, However, I was really surprised at how much they impressed me. They have all clearly been studying The Beatles and their actions and movements and despite the fact that ‘Paul’ was right handed rather than left handed, it was obvious who was who. In fact, I enjoyed their performance so much that a trip to see ‘Let It Be’ is now on the cards.
See ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m2bM13xadY
The productions followed thick and fast, with performers from ‘Once’, ‘Wicked’ and ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ all taking the limelight. I was thrilled to see all of these, as I love every one of those shows. ‘Once’ showed what they were all about with a medley of numbers and they were very well received. Gina Beck and Louise Dearman delivered a stunning rendition of ‘For Good’, then Dearman took the stage on her own to perform Defying Gravity. A real treat followed when the cast of Billy Elliot decided to drop the usual ‘Electricity’ number (which is amazing but always brought out) and instead performed a medley which included the entire cast. This was a true representation of what the show is about and I just loved it.
View ‘For Good’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eLhp0n2qlg
And the ‘Billy Elliot’ performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fQQd1xZ3ZM
Every show and every performer was given a fantastic reception by the crowd, who screamed, shouted and clapped along and of course, where they could, they sang along. The cast (many of whom only started in the show a week ago) of ‘Les Miserables’ came out to the most tremendous roar, showing that it will continue running way beyond it’s current 27 years. Again, it is a show that I love very much and there was absolutely no give away that this cast had been in the show for less than a week. I forgot the shivers I get from watching it and again, I succumbed and bought myself some tickets to see it again in September. The sound those guys made was simply incredible.
Les Miserables cast – One Day More: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNWd5peCzyk
This was followed by the current cast of other West End veteran show ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Despite the fact that ‘Phantom’ is probably my favourite show, I have never seen either Marcus Lovett nor Sofia Escobar in the roles of Christine and Phantom respectively. Sadly the person in charge of the smoke machine got a little carried away and there was some sort of problem with the microphones as they did not sound as good as I have heard them previously but it was definitely a technical fault not the guys themselves.
The performance can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xit5Cf4fA64 (please note, it is not me that goes “there he is” on Lovett’s appearance!)
‘Top Hat’, ‘Matilda’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘The Bodyguard’ were also very popular. It was wonderful to see the support given to every single artist, performer and show. Although several of the productions came out and sang through the best known songs, a majority performed medleys or chose an alternative to the norm – ‘The Bodyguard’ for example. Probably best known for ‘I Will Always Love You’, this was avoided here and instead three upbeat numbers replaced it including ‘So Emotional’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Heather Headley and crew were in fine voice. Matilda just did the one number – ‘A Little Bit Naughty’ as did ‘Top Hat’ but I really enjoyed both and found myself grinning from beginning to end of the ‘Top Hat’ routine.
The very slick Top Hat performance can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qGrmMIoF2k
The day continued with ‘Jersey Boys’, Jon Lee’s Frankie Valli reaching some notes that had me wondering just exactly how tight his trousers were. Their set consisted of about five songs, each one a well known hit (albeit sometimes better known by alternative performers). It is easy to see why people return to this show again and again. ‘Mamma Mia!’ entertained the crowd, followed by ‘Thriller Live’ and dance show with the stars of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’; ‘Burn The Floor’. A couple of new shows – ‘The Sound Of Music’, ‘The Colour Purple’ and the next production from Sir Tim Rice – ‘From Here To Eternity’ were then interspersed with those aimed at children – ‘Dora The Explorer’, ‘Peter Pan: Never Ending Story’, ‘Braniac Live’ and ‘Zoonation’s Groove On Down The Road’ as well as the West End Gospel Choir, Showstoppers and West End Kids. Joey from War Horse (one of the fully moving horse ‘puppets’) also made an appearance during the day so that people had the chance to experience him first hand. I still cannot get over how utterly realistic these horses are.
The day drew to a close but this was definitely not an anti-climax with ‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage’, Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ – another show which I love – it is in an altogether different league from Les Mis and Phantom but it is supposed to be and it is brilliantly funny, ‘A Chorus Line’ (whose cast had hotfooted it fresh from their matinee performance to join in), ‘Stomp’ and finally ‘Rock of Ages’. It is sad that ‘A Chorus Line’ is closing at the end of August but I am just relieved to say that I have my tickets booked to see it on August 10th.
I was lucky enough during the day to speak to the four guys from ‘Let It Be’ to ask what they thought about the event. Playing The Beatles were Michael Galliano – John, Luke Roberts – Ringo, Stephen Hill – George and James Fox – Paul.
The Let It Be Beatles, L-R: John, George, Paul, Ringo. Picture my own.
Here’s what they said: “It is such an important event. There is so much talent in the West End and it’s important that we get bums on seats and keep the money coming in so we can keep the theatres running and keep producing the good shows.
It’s lovely to come to an event like this and show people just what we are about. The crowd are really responsive.”
I also managed to catch the ‘Jersey Boys’ for a chat. Jon Lee – Frankie Valli, Jon Boydon – Tommy De Vito, Chris Gardner – Bob Gaudio, David McGranaghan – Nick Massi
“WEL is great fun and it’s lovely to be back. The crowd are responding massively, this is such a nice event which brings everybody together. It’s like a big shop window and it means people get to see all sorts. We are lucky that we are in a show where people leave talking about it and then bring their friends back to see it too and where people who don’t necessarily like musicals will come and enjoy it. We normally bring all four seasons with us (!) but it hasn’t rained this year, we are back again tomorrow to sing to more thousands”.
L-R Chris Gardner, Jon Boydon, David McGranaghan. Picture my own.
The variety that the West End has to offer is plain to see. West End Live is a fantastic opportunity for people to see the talent and actual casts that perform in these shows. For those who are unsure, it is a chance to have a taster, see what they think – perhaps tempt them to try something out. For the diehard musicals fans it is the perfect way to spend the day and means they do not have to choose which ONE to see. It is also ideal for new productions to show what they are about and for people to hear the scores, to encourage people to buy tickets. Theatre can often seem inaccessible to people for a number of reasons but WEL proves that there is something for everyone and regular ticket offers mean it is also affordable for all. All the participants seem to be in agreement that this WEL is an excellent promotional tool as well as good fun and the fact that this event grows each year is a testament to our fabulous West End. I am so glad I have finally got to witness this event first hand as I’ve not been able to make it in previous years. It makes me want to be up there performing with them all, as it always does when I go to the theatre and it certainly put a huge smile on my face.
Next year is the 10th anniversary and so I very much hope I will be a part of it once again.
Tickets for all of the above shows can be bought from a variety of websites and of course the TKTS official London theatre ticket booth which resides in Leicester Square. It is also worth keeping an eye out for offers. Some shows do not really do offers but many day ticket and some just have monthly offers but there are some fantastic deals to be had – if you are anything like me and want to see absolutely everything, then believe me, it is worth shopping around!
I would like to say a huge thank you to Livetheatre.co who gave me the opportunity to report for them – you can see my original post here – http://www.livetheatre.co/west-end-live-round-up/