Annual festival West End Live is the highlight on the London theatre calendar as it provides the opportunity for all the great shows in the capital to showcase what they have in store for audiences, and theatre-goers can sample some of the best musicals and plays that are on offer, completely for free. While I've only written about the event in 2013 and 2015, this year was actually my 9th or 10th time attending and it never grows old. There are some shows that have been performing the same set for many years now, such as Jersey Boys, but as they're such crowd-pleasers they continue getting everyone on their feet and dancing. And each year brings a host of news shows and surprises too, to keep the event fresh and interesting for repeat visitors such as myself. 2016 highlights included Kinky Boots, an unexpected Hamilton appearance, a mini Rock of Ages reunion, and much more.
Rather than writing a something about every single performance on the West End Live stage this year, I'm sharing some of my personal highlights (in chronological order, because that's how the pictures are on my camera!), otherwise this post would be far too long.
Saturday 18 June 2016The first surprise of the day, came early on in the morning with an appearance by Tom Chambers who I absolutely adored in Top Hat the musical a few years ago. He is taking on another classic this year with Crazy For You at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. The show isn't opening until 28 July but he already charmed us with a performance that makes me keen to check it out.
Of course Wicked, playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, greenified the event for a set which included As Long As You're Mine and For Good (the latter always makes me tear up). I especially loved the duet between Fiyero (Oliver Savile) and Elphaba (Emma Hatton) as they so clearly were having fun during the performance.
Next up was a sweet performance from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (playing its final year at Theatre Royal Drury Lane). It started with The Queen of Pop (by Violet Beauregarde) and finished with the classic Pure Imagination between Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket.
Trafalgar Square got kinky over the weekend when the colourful cast of Kinky Boots came on stage and showed off their amazing boots. They performed Raise You Up / Just Be and if you want to see more from Lola, Charlie and the gang (I know you do) you can find them at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand.
Les Miserables (playing at the Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue) was up next which was an utterly stunning performance. First a beautiful medley of songs from Eponine (Eva Noblezada) and Fantine (Rachelle Ann Go), followed by the always goosebump-inducing One Day More. Having that huge cast perform on the relative small stage at West End Live is a thrilling experience and epic is the only right word for their amazing performance.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty's Theatre) is a show that's always performing at West End Live, but this year they provided some extra treats. Usually they just have Christine and the Phantom singing a duet but this time around they didn't only have a large cast in stunning costumes, but also not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 Phantoms!
As some horrifying things happened in the week before West End Live we also took a moment to stand still by the victims of the Orlando shooting and Jo Cox with the beautiful words James Corden shared at the Tony Awards, followed by a minute of applause.
Despite having seen Jersey Boys (Piccadilly Theatre) perform at West End Live many, many, MANY times before (as they always do a big set on both days) they never cease to be fun. And even after a 20 minute set I'm totally craving more from them!
I loved seeing previews of some shows that haven't opened yet and another one is Jesus Christ Superstar, which be playing at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre from 15 July.
Sunday 19 June 2016I didn't attend for the entirety of Sunday as I had work to do (and photos to edit), but I arrived just in time to catch the West End Gospel Choir and during their set they surprised audiences with an appearance by Sam Mackay (currently Usnavi in In The Heights), who performed a phenomenal Hamilton medley with the West End Gospel Choir, including My Shot. Since I'd been listening to that song on repeat before I left the house that was an awesome coincidence. The performance was absolutely brilliant and I'm now even more excited for the show to open in London next year. And Sam HAS to take on the role of Alexander Hamilton (if Lin-Manuel Miranda isn't coming over with the transfer, of course).
Sunday was definitely the more star-studded day at West End Live as we had the chance to enjoy Samantha Barks next (Eponine in the Les Mis film), who treated us to a set in promotion of her new album. She of course sang her rendition of On My Own too, and yes we collectively shed a tear.
A few years ago I had the privilege to see a show called Murder Ballad on Broadway (then starring the incredible Caissie Levy from Hair and Ghost the musical fame) and this tale of love and betrayal is making its way to London now too. The cast is phenomenal as it includes Kerry Ellis, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Ramin Karimloo and Norman Bowman. It will open at the Arts Theatre in September.
Another sneak peek was that of Breakfast at Tiffany's, currently touring the UK and making its way to Theatre Royal Haymarket from 30 June. It stars none other than Pixie Lott and though it is a play, not a musical, there are still musical numbers within it and she performed one of them at West End Live.
As we hadn't had enough stars on stage already on Sunday, Pixie Lott's performance was followed by that of Newton Faulkner and Lucas Rush as they performed a selection of songs from American Idiot, which is also returning to the Arts Theatre on 8 July. I saw Newton years and years ago when I was living in Australia and his single Dream Catch Me had just made the charts and it was fun to see him on stage again, now in punk-rock style.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with phenomenal solo sets of some of the best West End stars today. Daniel Boys kicked the series off as he not only presented on Sunday but performed some beautiful numbers too.
Next up was the always rockin' Nathan Amzi who really brought the house down with Highway to Hell. I really hope he'll be Dewey in the upcoming School of Rock adaptation coming to London as I don't know anyone more perfect for the role!
Continuing the mini Rock of Ages reunion were Ian Mckintosh and Twinnie-Lee Moore who rose from ROA understudies to deserving leads with their rendition of High Enough. I absolutely love how even three years after ROA closing on the West End, there is always *some* sort of tribute to it at WEL as it honestly was one of the best shows, with the most crazily talented cast, to ever grace the boards in London.
And finally, closing the weekend of West End fun in epic style was Ramin Karimloo with a beautiful Broadway Broadgrass set that concluded with Do You Hear the People Sing from Les Mis.
What a wonderful weekend West End Live was once more (and for the first time I can remember the weather held out too!), filled with a wealth of shows old and new and a tremendous amount of talent that is unrivalled anywhere else. Thanks to all who made it possible – here's to next year being another cracker!