So I’ve covered the shows, now I thought I would ode to the incredible performances I have seen this year. Again, so hard to narrow down to a top 10! 10. Adam Bayjou: Alternate “Jean Valjean” in Les Miserables I have only seen half a dozen Valjean’s but so far Adam’s was the most powerful,… Continue reading My Top 10 Performers of 2017
As 2017 comes to a close I thought I would look back at this incredible year of theatre. I’ve seen so much this year it was so difficult to whittle it down to just 10 experiences, so first, some honourable mentions, these included seeing what the hype was about at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; multiple visits including the first preview and closing night of The Toxic Avenger; The Color Purple in Concert at Cadogan Hall; Bonnie and Clyde Work-in-progress & The Wild Party (both The Other Palace); seeing Beautiful a few times in its closing months (ending with closing night); and seeing two productions at my favourite venue Regent’s Park Open Air – On the Town and Jesus Christ Superstar.
*Also note I have excluded the many concerts of performers I have seen, just sticking with solely theatre-related shows/events otherwise the list would go on and on!
10. West End Live 2017
The free outdoor concert event showcasing each show and performer of the West End over one weekend. The event closed with this powerful performance from John Owen Jones, Nathan Amzi, Marisha Wallace and Trevor Dion Nicholas. Incredible to be a part of!
9. Panto Returns to the London Palladium
Book-ending my 2017 was Cinderella (January) and Dick Whittington (December) at the London Palladium. Both showcased star casts, spectacle, musical and classic panto. And I have never laughed so much in my life than I have watching Julian Clary in both!
8. Cast change/Matt Henry’s Final performance of Kinky Boots
An incredible evening from start to finish. You could tell the whole audience had such a love for this show and cast and everyone went full out for the last one. Matt Henry received what felt like close to a 5-minute standing ovation after “Hold Me In Your Heart,” and that’s something I won’t forget in a hurry!
7. The first UK performance of Hamilton
This musical is astonishing in every sense, while I feel it’s not as good as creator Lin Miranda’s other big musical In the Heights, it certainly is worth the hype. And to be a part of the very first audience of something that has already created a legacy, reformed how musical theatre is done and that will run for years was pretty unbelievable!
6. Half a Sixpence (all three times)
I wish I had since the show more than three times because it was perfect and did not deserve to close. While I enjoyed it the first time without him, rising star Charlie Stemp really elevated the show and gave such an inventive and fresh lead performance. A truly beautiful show with amazing show-stopping numbers (will forever be blown away by “Pick Out a Simple Tune”) that definitely contributed to making my year!
5. 42nd Street (again, and again, and again)
The best show on the West End right now! I’ve seen it four times this year and I’m not stopping there. My heart feels like it’s jumping out at every moment. With just the Overture and opening scene you are blown away. This cast, this ensemble, this choreography, this music makes one of the best experiences you will have…well…in general!
4. Dreamgirls (all 8 times I guess!)
Along with Wicked, this is the show I have since the most this year and overall in my 10 years of theatre watching. It is so impressive, the vocals and the music take your breath away. I was lucky enough in November to be at cast change Saturday (final show for Amber) and Monday (Marisha’s lead debut), but to be honest, every time seeing this show feels like a special occasion because every time, everyone goes all out!
3. Wicked cast changes
As ever, what I look forward to every year is a cast change at Wicked, just so happens we had two this year with limited return runs for powerhouses Rachel Tucker and Willemijn Verkaik, and the end of contract for the exceptional 10th Anniversary company. Emotions and vocal goals were at the forefront this year and I loved every minute. Not to mention, this was all followed by my all-time favourite Elphaba Alice Fearn becoming lead! Get in!
2. In the Heights Closing Night
Going back to the very first week of the year, when before London gained Hamilton, it lost In the Heights. This was a night that I will remember forever: half a dozen standing-ovations, an incredible final performance of one of my top 5 shows, and a speech from the main man Lin at the end of it all. It was simply everything!
1. The Girls (in general)
I feel like I go on about this show a lot on my blog but for good reason. My top 3 shows move around a little depending on how I’m feeling and this show has felt like it ought to be in the number 1 spot after this year. I was lucky to see the show 6 times (although I wish it was more) and it is honestly the most fun and equally heartbreaking experience I’ve had – something about how the show is done connects very emotionally with me, and the final 2 performances in particular were arguably the best theatre experience I’ve had in my life! It was not given long enough in the West End…still, I can’t wait for the tour in 2018!
In an age of your Phantom’s and your Hamilton’s, people sometimes forget that there are millions of musicals out there that haven’t truly reached the pinnacle of the aforementioned…maybe because of their commercial appeal… well, it is exactly that. No matter how good a show is, if it doesn’t bring in the big bucks it won’t last, and that’s business, and it’s tough. So to steer away from all that doom and gloom, I’ve compiled a list of musicals scores that if you asked a person on the street would probably say they “didn’t know it was a thing,” and in a way that’s why I love it, because it’s ours and not there’s. For each show I’ve given my favourite songs just to give you an idea of how special they all are.
10. Ragtime and “Our Children”
I saw this musical last year and although it was not a full production (as one of the actors was taken ill so they performed a minimally-staged concert version) it was one of the most powerful theatre experiences I’ve ever had. This score is stunning, and this is my favourite song; the first time I heard it last year I was overcome with emotion, not because it’s an overly sad song, but just the melody is so beautiful.
9. Michael John La Chuisa’s The Wild Party and “People Like Us”
Earlier in 2017, this show was brought to the West End, and I didn’t know what to expect because Andrew Lippa’s version (which originally had it’s New York debut around the same time as La Chuisa’s) is considered the better version of the same story – and having not seen Lippa’s I can’t comment too much, but all I know is that this show is basically a masterpiece. It’s so powerfully different and the score carries the characters and plot in such a unique crazy way. I remember hearing “People Like Us” for the first time and getting so many chills. The production I saw featured a phenomenally dedicated cast including Frances Ruffelle, John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. A once-in-a-lifetime one!
8. Titanic the Musical and it’s Opening
Another musical I finally got to see last year and how stunning. I hadn’t been effected by a something in such a way before. I think coming out the same time as James Cameron’s film was not the best for it, but Maury Yeston is a genius – the whole score is tense, beautiful and fulfilling. The opening number showcases the phenomenal voices it takes to make this show a reality.
7. The Bridges of Madison County and “Falling into You”
The Last Five Years may be my favourite Jason Robert Brown score, but Bridges comes a very close second. It is perfect in every way, the melodies, the lyrics and Brown’s naturally ability to connect character with song. “Falling into You” closes the first act, and it’s just stunning. Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale’s voices here are majestic and pulse-racing.
6. The Toxic Avenger and “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore”
Arguably the funniest thing I have ever seen, Toxie is the gem of all gems. This show is so brilliant it’s unreal. The incredible score helps as well. David Bryan and Joe DiPietro have created a satire that pleases fans of the original material and musical theatre fans alike. This act one closer involves the actresses having to play two characters at the same time – once/if you see it, you’ll get it! It’s genius! As I write this, I’m about to go to the closing night of the show’s limited London run and it’s going to be incredible, high energy, laughs and powerhouse vocals, because it’s that kind of show and one that everyone needs in their lives!
5. The Lord of the Rings and “Now and For Always”
Ten years ago I saw my first West End show, The Lord of the Rings. The score of this show remains one of my favourites and has the best Orchestrations of any score. The show didn’t last long because not everything worked i.e. the book, but what was perfect was how each song sounded. My favourite song is “Now and For Always,” which captures the relationship of Frodo and Sam perfectly, doing justice to the material, with some to-die-for harmonies along the way.
4. Bonnie & Clyde and “You Love Who You Love”
Oh, Frank. Frank Wildhorn is my favourite composer because I like to think he writes for singers. And that’s what I love. There is always opportunity to show off your vocal ability (and stability) with a Wildhorn song. Broadway flop (I know, what?!) Bonnie & Clyde is my favourite of Frank’s shows because it represents the human condition in a powerful way and the score is perfect. “You Love Who You Love” is a contender for my favourite song in Frank’s repertoire; the multi-dimensional lyrics and the vocals here of Laura Osnes and Melissa van der Schyff kill me every time.
3. The Girls and “Scarborough”
I will forever go on about how much I love and miss this show; in my top 5 now for sure. One of the most special, perfect pieces of theatre ever written; it didn’t have a long commercial run in the West End, but don’t let that dishearten you of the quality of this emotional true story with a lot of laughs along the way. What writer Tim Firth managed to do so effortlessly is capture the real, and that is why I will never forget this show – a true one-off. “Scarborough” introduces us to Annie and her struggle in her current life, the lyrics are simply stunning and Joanna Riding’s heart-breaking portrayal breaks me every time.
2. Jekyll & Hyde and “In His Eyes”
Again, another Wildhorn show, this musical actually ran on Broadway for a while, until a lot of terrible star casting dragged it under. Overall, my favourite complete score of any musical, and my favourite music altogether, the concept album of this show in particular is the best thing my ears have ever heard! “In His Eyes” is THE female duet power ballad, and I’m the biggest sucker for it. Carole Carmello and Linda Eder (the latter, my favourite voice of all-time) are perfection on this record.
1. Shrek the Musical and “Who I’d Be”
Ah, this show. Next to Wicked, my favourite musical – it changes between the two honestly! So underrated. The Broadway version, starring Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster is everything – and what can I say, I love singing green people! But not only that, the story is perfect and relatable. To be alienated against, to not think you’re good enough but to remain strong and go for what you love. The incredible “Who I’d Be” which closes act one, encompasses the whole relevance of the show in 4 minutes – nothing can quite compete with it in my eyes.
Arguably my favourite voice in terms of versatility, Tituss Burgess is rightfully a star! He could sing literally anything, the ingredients to a cake even, and it would sound amazing! I had the honour of seeing him before over a year ago and was just blown away by his work ethic, his showmanship and dedication. I’ve collected some highlights of his below because you have to know this man’s voice – it will cleanse your soul!
Firstly, his range is out of this world
It doesn’t matter what key a song might be in, because Tituss can do it all. And he’s a Frank Wildhorn fan – here he sangs “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde.
He could play any role, and has!
Tituss has actually played the Witch in a production of Into the Woods. What I would kill to see that because this is honestly, breathtaking:
Did I mention he sings songs intended for women?..
..When he’s not crabbing around!
He created the role of Sebestain in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid, and reprised that role for a special Hollywood Bowl concert last year. Those vocals take the song to a whole other level compared to the animated film version:
He’s an incredible actor if you haven’t already guessed
Jason Robert Brown can surely write a story-song and who better to express that than Tituss. Phenomenal!
And how can you not love him on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
Many viewers of the hilarious Netflix series might not know the background of this big Broadway star, but he sure as hell let’s them have it:
Self-indulgence? Haven’t heard of it. So I thought I might like to write about my favourite musical theatre roles that I would love to play on-stage. Male only although I might do a female one too, because why can I not thrust a broom in a make-believe world if I want to, right? Anyway, for structuring each section here I thought I would pick one song that that character performs to illustrate and support why I would love to do them. But first, honourable mentions: Jean Valjean (Les Miserables), Javert (Les Miserables), The Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera), Clyde (Bonnie and Clyde), Elder Cunningham (The Book of Mormon), King George III (Hamilton), amongst others.
Edit: I thought I would now bump it up to 7 only because I forgot my actual top dream role, ironically.
7. “Nicely Nicely Johnson” in Guys and Dolls
This character is just great fun. I was first introduced to him not so long ago in 2016 when I saw the latest West End revival. I love this show and how “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” was performed in this production was an energetic show-stopping masterpiece. Gavin Spokes was incredible:
6. “Fiyero” in Wicked
It would be impossible to turn down any role in my favourite show let alone the romantic male lead. Fiyero is a great character with a depth to him that not many people find unless you know the show very well. And he has great songs. “As Long As You’re Mine” is my favourite love song and it is very hard to match what Oliver Tompsett and his vocals brought to the role. Here is Tompsett with my ultimate Elphaba and Frozen‘s Broadway Elsa, Caissie Levy:
5. “Jamie Wellerstein” in The Last Five Years
Jason Robert Brown is such a musical and lyric genius, and in one of my favourite works The Last Five Years, the characters of Cathy and Jamie are though out so skilfully through the unique structure of this piece. For my favourite song of this character I went with “If I Didn’t Believe in You”. The lyrics and structure of this song, what it makes you go through with these characters is just so clever and powerful. Jeremy Jordan’s version in the film is to die for:
4. “Dan Goodman” in Next to Normal
The highly emotional show is one of my favourites too. It’s perfect, and the role of Dan is a must; there is such a lot to do with him. “I’ve Been” is such a haunting composition, just the opening chords get me every time and lyrics such as “mine is just a slower suicide” are so resonant and powerful in summarising the show and the character’s journey at this moment – not to mention the rest of the score is just as perfect. It is an emotionally taxing role, but it would be such a great challenge:
3. “Shrek” in Shrek the Musical
This show is in my top 2 musicals of all-time. It was one of the first shows I became obsessed with and means an awful lot to me; at that time, I related so much to this strong character that feels like an outsider and is judged by his appearance. It’s still so resonant, and this show, much like the film, is fun but also has that incredible message. And the songs are to die for – “Who I’d Be” remains one of my favourite songs and to perform that every night would be the dream if I wouldn’t be able to kill it like Brian d’Arcy James:
2. “Mark Cohen” in Rent
Because why would you pass up the idea of being in Rent? For me personally, I think Rent is the best thing ever written for the stage for so many reasons. Mainly because it makes me feel something I’ve never felt with anything else. It taps into me emotionally on so many levels. The orchestrations and vocals arrangement in “Halloween” inspire me to want to play this role so much. It’s a perfect composition, encapsulating character and subtle emotion but with huge gravitas:
1. “Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde” in Jekyll & Hyde
To be able to sing this score every night would be the dream! I love this show so much. The Broadway production was of course not the best version of the show that Frank Wildhorn had envisioned, but other productions have done the material justice. My favourite album is the full Concept Album that was made in 1989 or thereabouts. It’s masterful and my favourite musical score, you can tell it was Frank’s passion project. “The Confrontation” is the accumulation of this multi-layered character’s story, the writing and staging of this song is unlike anything else. The role challenges you from a vocal and an acting perspective that it requires a real pro:
How could I choose which 5 moments I love the most when you love the show from start to finish? Indecisively, that’s how. My favourite moments probably do and will continue to change, but I think the following list is the current general feeling I have. And I couldn’t fit everything I love in, so, some honourable mentions: Dancing through Life (Fiyero’s Arrival), As Long As You’re Mine, Thank Goodness, Governor’s Mansion (Wicked Witch of the East), The Wizard and I.
5. For Good
The accumulation of the journey we have been on with these two characters. The powerful statement of ‘because I knew you, I have been changed for good’ echoes widely, which is why this song is so successful out of context, and within the show. I particularly love this moment on a cast change in which the Elphaba, Glinda or even both are performing the song for the last time. The above lyric has more than one meaning in this circumstance, which makes it all the most poignant, and to see these amazing women get so emotional when they are leaving the show is a testament to how it affects people so strongly.
4. Dancing Through Life: Ballroom Sequence
From the end of a friendship to the beginning. A couple of moments still get me every time. The Nessarose/Boq supporting plot always breaks my heart (no pun intended); some performers who have played Nessarose have managed to hit me emotionally in the moment in which she feels loved and dances for the first time. Then in another kick to the gut, Elphaba arrives to the dance. The ensemble as the Students of Shiz are hilarious every time as they mock and tease her, and when Elphaba attempts to fit-in, it’s both hysterical and heart-breaking. But the scene soon changes mood when Glinda realises her mistake and joins in to dance with Elphaba. Just explaining it here does not do justice to how powerful that moment is on-stage. Many times I still find myself getting emotional because its such a poignant and relatable circumstance I feel begins the friendship of the two characters perfectly; the build-up of the Dancing through Life motif, and eventual reprise, compliments the scene so well.
3. The Finale
The most beautiful sequence in the show. I also look forward to seeing how a show ends – not because it’s ending of course – but you know that it is the scene that will finish the show and the imagery is the last you’ll see before the curtain comes down, so it needs to wow you. And luckily, Wicked has one of the best final scenes. The music (particularly those harmonies!), the strikingly emotional imagery as Glinda descends and Elphaba and Fiyero walk up-stage into their new life, and the link full-circle back to the beginning of the story. Everything about it still give me goosebumps even after so many times.
2. Catfight / No Good Deed
Without a doubt my favourite extended sequence of the show. From Dorothy’s house drop to the Witch Hunters rally, so much happens to the characters in this part of the show. Most fans consider the “Catfight” scene and No Good Deed one sequence, because it flows so perfectly. I always look forward to the “Catfight” scene – it’s my favourite fully spoken dialogue scene in the show because it showcases Elphaba and Glinda at this point in their story so effortlessly. Elphaba has turned into the ‘Wicked Witch’ we know from “The Wizard of Oz”, but here, we are still on her side. Glinda has been corrupted by the public figure image, so naturally, the two clash for the first time since before they became friends. Then we have No Good Deed – which is just the most incredible 11’o’clock number and possibly my favourite song in the show. It’s gritty, powerful, and services the character of Elphaba as she attempts to save Fiyero. It’s ridiculously good, and each Elphaba brings their own layers to the complex character which makes this equally a heart-breaking and exciting moment to experience.
1. Defying Gravity
An obviously choice? Probably. Oh, well. This scene is so powerful in multiple ways; it’s build-up from The Wizard’s chamber scene, to Madame Morrible’s speech and the eventual flying never fails to make my heart go three times faster experiencing it live. You experience Elphaba’s hope turn to torment when she discovers The Wizard’s plan and rebels against him; and the lyrics are relevant without the context of the show, yet work so perfectly inside it too – a factor all the best theatre songs have: they stand-alone, but you can’t have the show without them. Again, each Elphaba I’ve seen brings something different to the role and I’m always excited to experience how this is performed – a sure-fire showstopper! My favourite 100 seconds in theatre is the climax of this song, it’s without a doubt, my life.
HOW. IS. THIS. SHOW. CLOSING. Bit delayed, but thought I would share my favourite tracks from the original Broadway cast recording of this extraordinary new musical, in light of it announcing its closing after a mere 5-month run. I won’t vent too much, but this is becoming a problem now. But that’s a matter for another day and another post me thinks! So back to this for now. In just experiencing this album, I believe this to be a worthy competitor to the likes of recent successes Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton. It boasts the big band-stand style mixed with jazz/blues genre of the time, while feeling relevant and telling a powerful story. Gutted I won’t be able to see it on Broadway, so the cast album will have to do, which is fine, I mean, how beautiful is that album cover though?!!!
5. Love Will Come and Find Me Again
I love how this song owes/tributes to the classic yearning/wanting song while putting a modern spin on it! And Laura Osnes’ always flawless vocals make this a damn good track!
4. Right This Way
Jut listen to those lyrics, man! If there’s a show right now with something important to say, it’s this one!
This song is so catchy it’s unbelievable! The writing team must have known they had something special with this show!
2. This is Life
Again, this song has that emotion and is so clever as well! Osnes is not the only star, because her leading man Corey Cott is just as incredible! Too much talent on one stage!
1. Welcome Home (Finale)
My favourite song in the show – it showcases Laura’s incredible vocals once again and has that build-up of power and energy that hits you emotionally. And this video, posted by the show’s official YouTube channel, made my cry when I watched it. It sums up what the show it about and how important the message is. Very special.