Jan 24, 2011

Review: Direct from the West End

Direct from the West End
Date: 23rd January 2011
Venue: Grand Opera House, York
Cast: Samantha Barks, Antony Hansen with Scott Garnham, Killian Donnelly, Jeff Nicholson, Gina Beck, Rachel Bingham and Jessie May
Rating: ***

This is what I have in mind as my after-exam treat and boy, was it a good treat! My seat was up in the first row of the grand circle with great view of the stage. What attracted me to this concert was simply the cast, mainly from the current West End cast of Les Miserables. I have seen them in action last year and was so excited to know that they are doing a concert of their own.

The show started off with 'A New Song' from the not-so-well-known "Songs for a New World". I think it's a great opening song and it nicely showcases everyone's singing voice, though it got a bit messed up towards the end. Then the co-producer and ensemble member of the show, Scott Garnham, welcomed us to the concert and he made it clear that tonight is simply about the "voices". Well, it was really about the voices because there wasn't anything else on the stage, the music was all pre-recorded with some lighting and simple costumes. Luckily, they didn't have the cheesy slide presentation like the one Beyond the Barricade used.

There were 6 people in the company. Scott Garnham, Killian Donnelly, Jeff Nicholson and Rachel Bingham are from the current cast of Les Miz, while Gina Beck has played Christine in The Phantom and Jessie May played Sophie in Mamma Mia! The guys seemed to be shining brighter than the girls here, boasting better vocal ability and personality. Scott was very impressive. His solo was usually of very good quality especially (an abridged version of) Till I Hear You Sing and Maria. His 'This Is the Moment' was good but I think it was placed in the wrong timing of the show which made it seem kinda flat.

Killian Donnelly was probably my favourite Enjolras ever but here the material didn't give him the chance to shine as much as he could. Still very good though. His 'Bring Him Home' was beautiful. Jeff Nicholson (AKA the Foreman) was just awesome. Where does this guy come from? He sang 'Music of the Night' and 'Anthem' impeccably and his 'Song of the King' was just hilarious. However, he seemed to be a bit uncomfortable with the choreography. Also, it was really funny when he just walked across the stage at one point before This Is the Moment to collect the microphone stand and adjust the lighting and smiled and just walked off.

Samantha Barks
(as Eponine)

The girls were good but they were nowhere near the guys. Rachel Bingham was probably the best and she got all the good songs to show off her talent. Her 'Winner Takes It All' and 'As Long As He Needs Me' was absolutely breathtaking. Gina Beck did well in 'The Phantom of the Opera', though I expected more from here since she WAS Christine! Her 'Memory' in the second act was nice but she kept messing up the lyrics. The weakest performers of the company would be Jessie May and her song choice didn't help much either. She did ok with 'Welcome to the 60s' which seemed to suit her vocal range best out of the whole night but the other songs were just too much for her. You don't let a girl sing 'All I Ask of You' or 'Take Me As I Am' if she doesn't have a strong soprano voice.

The show also features 2 "celebrity" guest singers. The first was the wonderful Samantha Barks who is currently playing Eponine in the West End and was Eponine at the O2 concert. She was beautiful and sung all her songs wonderfully especially her opening song 'The Wizard and I'. I could picture her as Elphaba in Wicked! Her 'On My Own' was not as good as it could be, probably because of the recorded track which didn't give her the time to taking the emotions in.

Antony Hansen
(in his Joseph days)
The second guest singer was Any Dream Will Do's finalist, Antony Hansen who was filling in for Lucie Jones who was ill. I was somewhat looking forward to seeing him perform live but there's a reason why he got cut off the show early. He wasn't very good and his song choice didn't help. He sang Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' as his opening song and boy, was it a horrible tune to listen to! His voice was not strong and the backing track was just bad. You don't do Queen's songs unless you have a live band! His 'Close Every Door' was better but it was nowhere near Lee Mead, Keith Jack or Daniel Boys.

The ensemble number were overall quite good. 'I Go to Rio' is an interesting choice for second act opening but it was pretty entertaining. 'Quintet' from "West Side Story" was really good. 'One Day More' could have been stronger in my opinion. Here, I actually prefer the version done by Beyond the Barricade with 4 people. 'Never Forget' is another interesting choice for a finale but it was a cute, warm and catchy way to end a very entertaining evening. I wish they could have done an encore since the audience was so into it!

I say it was a fun experience, definitely better than Beyond the Barricade. If only they could afford a live band, that would make the atmosphere a lot better, I think.

A New World (Company)****
The Phantom of the Opera (Gina and Jeff)****
The Music of the Night (Jeff)*****
All I Ask of You (Killian and Jessie)***
Till I Hear You Sing (Scott)*****
The Wizard and I (Samantha)*****
As Long As He Needs Me (Rachel)*****
Don't Stop Me Now (Antony)*
Somebody to Love (Jessie with Rachel and Gina)*
Fugue for Tinhorns (Jeff, Killian and Scott)*****
Luck Be a Lady (Scott with Jeff and Killian)*****
On My Own (Samantha)****
Bring Him Home (Killian)****
One Day More (Samantha, Antony and Company)***

Act Two
I Go to Rio (Scott and Company)****
Superstar (Killian and Company)****
Anthem (Jeff)*****
Welcome to the 60's (Jessie and Company)***
Maria (Scott)*****
Quintet (Company)*****
Maybe This Time (Samantha)*****
The Winner Takes It All (Rachel)*****
Prologue from Joseph... (Gina)*****
Close Every Door (Antony)****
Song of the King (Jeff and Company)*****
Memory (Gina)****
Take Me As I Am (Killian and Jessie)**
This Is the Moment (Scott)***
Never Forget (Samantha, Antony and Company)****

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