West End Heroes
Everyone loves a West End showtune. Everyone loves a military band. And some people like Christopher Biggins (luckily I’m one of them!). So West End Heroes was always going to be the perfect way to sing and march away those Sunday evening blues.
West End Heroes is a variety show for a good cause, mixing the hottest West End talent with some of the country’s most prestigious military bands. The acts included songs from musicals past and present, magic (courtesy of Britain’s Got Talent runner up Jamie Raven) and dance. These were supplemented by some poignant films about the work done by the night’s beneficiaries, Help for Heroes.
The night was hosted by Christopher Biggins, as high camp and energetic as ever, who held the evening together with an amusing stream of quips and innuendos. He was not afraid to make a bit of an idiot of himself for a good cause, taking part in a drill march with the Queen’s Colour Squadron and dressing up in all manner of weird and wonderful costumes.
The vocal talent on display included some of the best in the West End, with some showstopping performances throughout. The clear highlight was John Owen-Jones and Celinde Schoenmaker from Phantom of the Opera performing the titular track, followed by Owen-Jones taking on Music of the Night. Owen-Jones has an astonishing vocal range and is a dark and brooding Phantom, whilst Schoenmaker has an operatic upper register that could give you goosebumps.
Also outstanding was Bradley Jaden, who gave a blistering rendition of Who I’d Be from Shrek. Rachel John and Jon Robyns both gave soulful performances from the musical Memphis that deservedly received a great reaction from the crowd. Some of the amateur choirs were somewhat less polished but made up for it with their vigour and enthusiasm.
It was also fantastic to see some young rising stars given the opportunity to shine; Abigail Rose from the National Youth Theatre gave a stunning performance of Nightporter from the NYT’s recent production of Romeo and Juliet, showing a confidence and stage presence well beyond her years. Equally, nineteen year old Charlotte Jaconelli (another BGT contestant) impressed with her version of Love Never Dies).
Also of note for musical fans was the first British showing of Elf the Musical, which is due to open later in October. The show has garnered a lot of hype (some of it around the high ticket prices), and whilst they only previewed a handful of numbers, what I saw left me a bit underwhelmed. Although the two leads (Ben Forster and Kimberley Walsh) sang very well, the songs were festive but not particularly memorable.
The staging was remarkably good considering the show relied on the cast and crew giving up their only rest day of the week, meaning rehearsal time was sparse. The lighting was fantastic, with the brilliant use of spotlighting and shadows, notably during the second act. The Royal Air Force Squadronaires provided superb backing all night, showing why they’re regarded as one of the strongest big bands in the world.
Matt Flint’s choreography was also both complex and uplifting (especially Tap Your Troubles Away from Mack & Mabel), supported by the wonderful troupe of West End Heroes Dancers. The mix of songs was generally effective, although it was a bit bemusing for a military fundraiser to finish with Do You Hear People Sing?, a song encouraging a popular insurrection against the army!
West End Heroes wisely avoided making the concert a remembrance festival; instead it was a celebration of the brilliant talent within both the military and the UK theatre scene. Director Tim Marshall said he wanted to offer a ‘great night out’; by that standard the production passed with flying (military) colours.