Sophie Adnitt reviews West End Eurovision, a special event benefiting TheatreMad held at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre.
West End Eurovision
22nd April 2018
More about TheatreMad
I thought I was ready for West End Eurovision. Why wouldn’t I? I love theatre and I love Eurovision, and all the necessary camp that comes with both. Plus this year’s contestants (after the competition taking a four year hiatus) had been selected from a brilliant bunch of shows, and it was all for a great cause – the Make A Difference Trust, supporting those with HIV and AIDS.
But let me tell you. I was not ready for West End Eurovision.
In a packed out Shaftesbury Theatre (usually home to Motown the Musical) things kicked off in style with guest vocalists Carl Mullaney and Emma Lindars performing a medley of past Eurovision hits, complete with back up dancers, pyrotechnics and plenty of glitter. They returned post-interval for an all too brief tribute to ABBA (in wigs and costume, naturally).
The host for the evening was Richard Gauntlet, who provided a good line in knowing asides, in-jokes, groan-worthy puns and generally keeping things moving along. There were also three judges on hand to help decide the winners; comedian Tom Allen (who caused much laughter with his frequent attempts to describe choreography he enjoyed without knowing their correct terms), choreographer Arlene Phillips, and stage star John Partridge. Whilst the feedback the trio provided every act wasn’t particularly constructive, it was well received by the performers, and succeeded in rallying the audience.
The concept was simple; each cast presented their version of a past Eurovision entry, preceded by a video ident of their own creation. Three prizes were on offer – best ident, best creative (as chosen by the judges) and best overall, as voted for by the audience and a judging jury from each competing show.
First up was the cast of Hamilton, mashing up Denmark’s 2014 entry Cliche Love Song with a section from the show’s own The Schuyler Sisters. The charismatic group provided a lively way to get things going, and the cast set the bar for the rest of the night.
They were followed by the cast of Young Frankenstein, whose ident focused on how to make the ideal Eurovision contestant – until the combination of peroxide, fake tan and a poor grasp of the English language landed them with a figure more keen on making America great again. They went for Sweden’s Take Me To Your Heaven from 1999, plumping for high camp, strong cheese and of course, quick costume changes. The cast of 42nd Street went for a big hit with Boom Bang a Bang, albeit with a samba twist, complete with a surprise appearance by Lulu herself.
Dreamgirls opened the second half of the evening with their take on the Eurovision classic Making Your Mind Up, putting an exhilarating fresh spin on the well known tune that bought the house down.
Kinky Boots bought attitude and glamour with their squad of drag queen dancers, prompting yells of ‘Miss Vanjie!’ (RuPaul’s Drag Race fans will know), as they strutted and stalked through Warrior, the Georgian entry from 2015. Mamma Mia also went for a more obscure number with Sweden’s 2014 offering Undo, but nevertheless they did not disappoint. Strong choreography, flips, tricks and stunning vocals all contributed to a strong performance.
Finishing the show was the cast of Aladdin – and they were worth the wait. Their number Drama Queen was pure Eurovision, with strapping shirtless male dancers, a drag queen of their own and again, extraordinary choreography.
But the stars of the night, and eventual overall winners, was the cast of The Phantom of the Opera. From their ingenious Gogglebox inspired ident, things went brilliantly for them. Covering Conchita Wurst’s winning Rise Like a Phoenix, it was a good choice of song and unexpectedly sensitively timed. Each of the cast bore an impressive beard (bar a scene stealing Cousin It), including figures such as Jesus, Dumbledore and even a bearded Christine. Despite the laughs prompted by their concept, their performance was absolutely sensational.
Throughout the evening we were reminded why we were there – raising money for the Make a Difference Trust. Charity buckets were accessible but not overbearing, and the choice of speakers for the evening kept a good balance of the serious and silly.
It is also incredibly admirable that so many West End performers agreed to take part in the performance on their one day off, putting in tonnes of energy and razzle-dazzle even after an eight show week. Among glitter and glamour, the event had a surprising amount of heart and was undeniably terrific fun.
Rounding off the night was crowd pleasing performances by Eurovision alum Lucie Jones, and this year’s hopeful SuRie, leaving everyone in the goodwill mood of the real Eurovision. Gloriously over the top, the evening was an absolute treat for fans of the shows themselves and theatreland regulars alike.
I don’t think I will ever be quite ready for West End Eurovision, but you can bet that I’ll definitely be back next year.
West End Eurovision News Report
The cast of the West End’s longest running musical, The Phantom of the Opera, were hailed the stars of West End Eurovision 2018, scoring a remarkable double victory.
Performing Conchita Wurst’s 2014 winning song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, and earing top marks of 106 – 36 ahead of their nearest rivals, Dreamgirls.
The Phantom of the Opera entry was voted overall winner and was also awarded the Judges Award – Best Creative from the judging panel of choreographer, director and showbiz legend Arlene Phillips, John Partridge and stand up star Tom Allen.
Featuring a cast of bearded characters including Conchita, Alphaba, Princess Jasmine and The Bearded Lady from The Greatest Showman and a fabulous quick change dress transfornation, The Phantom of the Opera cast stormed the event winning more top marks than any other
The third trophy of the night, the Best Ident, voted for by public text vote, was won by Hamilton.
The final result was:
1. The Phantom of the Opera – 106 votes
2. Dreamgirls – 70 votes
3. Aladdin – 60 votes
4. Young Frankenstein – 50 votes
5. 42nd Streeet – 42 votes
6. Kinky Boots – 38 votes
7. Mamma Mia – 32 votes
8. Hamilton – 24 votes
The evening also featured two epic performances by this year’s UK entry, SuRie performing the emotive and uplifting track Storm tha t carriesthe hopes of the UK at the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday 12 May, and musical theatre leading actress Lucie Jones who represented the UK in 2017 with the nation’s best showing in eight years – with a dance version of her entry, Never Give Up On You.
Legendary charity production West End Eurovision was staged at the Shaftesbury Theatre for the first time in four years and was a sold-out strorming success.
Melanie Tranter, chair of the Make A Difference Trust said: ”We are delighted to welcome back West End Eurovision and look forward to it becoming one of our annual fundraisers. Last night’s event was a testament to the generosity of the amazing people in the theatre community coming together to support the Trust. The funds raised will help us to continue our work supporting those living with of affected by HIV and AIDS. Congratulations to The Phantom of the Opera for a well deserved win. We all look forward to them defending the trophy next year.”
Since the first West End Eurovision contest was staged in 2008, the event has raised thousands to support the MAD Trust. The Trust works with its partners to support HIV and AIDS projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa building awareness and providing care support and education.