West End Live has become one of the most hotly anticipated weekends for theatregoers everywhere. Two days of talent being showcased to thousands of people in a very broad audience. What’s not to like?
Now I live in London I actually have the chance to go to events like this. So… Up I woke at 5am. Arrived at Trafalgar Square just before 7am. Queued for 3 hours! This isn’t really something I do very often – if ever. I’ve not gotten to the stage of early morning day seating yet (I somehow doubt I ever will), so this is the closest I’ll get.
When I arrived there were no more than a dozen people in the queue – I’d been expecting many more than that! It did make me think that I could’ve stayed in bed a bit longer, but considering what the queue looked like at 9am…
… I’m glad I got there when I did! Even if the whole queuing system went out of the window when the gates opened and numpties decided to run all the way to the stage barriers. Meh. We ended up around 6 ‘rows’ back, with reasonable views anyway.
Oddly, the time did fly by. Probably helped by the fact that I could talk Sunny Afternoon with Jess for 4 hours almost non-stop! And then it finally started.
The Commitments was a pretty good choice of opening act, performing a medley of soul classics, followed by their show closer ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. Brian Gilligan (Deco) did his best to try & get the crowd going; on the whole he succeeded. And it was a great representation of a well-loved West End show!
Billy Elliot came next. A fun little dance number, but that couldn’t really be appreciated fully at the front, as you couldn’t see their feet (I think I’ve watched too much Strictly!). I did enjoy it, but I really had hoped that the whole ensemble would be involved, so we could see Sunny alumnus Robbie Durham in his new role.
Bit of an odd one next… Not the show (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but the song choice. For some reason they went with Augustus Gloop’s golden ticket song… Possibly catering to children because it has him burping in it (seriously, it does), but surely a Wonka number would’ve been more suitable? Especially as they just did the one song. Having seen the show before, I’d been quite looking forward to the prospect of that – those are some of the best songs available, in my opinion.
Next was Wicked. A bit gimmicky, this one… And a bit of a kick in the teeth for any big fans who got there early to be at the front, as Emma Hatton (Elphaba) performed ‘Defying Gravity’ from the roof of Canada House! If I’m honest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the singing at that point, as I could see a beautiful drum kit being wheeled onto the stage right in front of me…
So this is what I’d sacrificed my sleep for! Thanks to Adam’s Instagram posts on the official Sunny Afternoon page we were pretty confident they were going to do the finale medley (‘Lola/All Day And All Of The Night/You Really Got Me/Lola’), but hoped that they do one more song to keep us going. Maybe ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ or ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. Actually, I’d dreamed the night before that they opened with the drum solo! How happy would that have made me? (Who cares about the rest of the audience?!)
In the end, the opening chords of ‘Lola’ rang out and we knew we were ‘just’ getting the medley. But what a performance! As ever, George was in a full Dave mode, encouraging the crowd to clap along from the word go. The guys really did a great job, picking up from where The Commitments left off and doing their best to get some interaction – properly rocking Trafalgar Square!
And the gorgeous Sunny girls got a big cheer when they arrived for the second half of the medley! The sky may have been grey, but the stage was truly lit up by this performance. By far the highlight of my time at West End Live! And there was even time for Adam to take a final shot of the Sunny gang’s experience:
You can just about see me & Jess down near the front – I am grinning like a Cheshire Cat behind my camera!
I was excited to see Memphis‘ contribution; it was a show I went to not expecting it to live up to all the hype, but it really blew my socks off! And they didn’t disappoint here. Beverley Knight’s stunning rendition of ‘Colored Woman’ gave me goosebumps, and Killian was his inimitable self! The ensemble number ‘Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was a fantastic choice that really drew the crowd in – it created a real buzz.
Matilda was next – a show still on my list to see. Another fun performance; a solo number from one of the Matildas (Anna-Louise Knight). Possibly easier to appreciate from a bit further back (or if you were a bit taller!), but short & sweet – keeping the feel-good mood going.
Which was soon flattened… By the juggernaut that is Miss Saigon. Firstly, the screens from the crowd (before, during & after the songs) were evocative of teenage girls at their favourite boyband’s concert – hardly appropriate, surely? And could they have chosen more depressing songs to perform? Well, given the show, the possibly could have I suppose, but all the same… Three (yes, three) long, songs that really brought the mood down – for me, in particular. So much so that as their third song started I felt compelled to leave. I mean, they could at least have done ‘The Heat Is On In Saigon’; it’s not cheery, but at least it’s a bit uptempo and interesting.
And that brings me to my biggest gripe of the day. Many of the acts ended up doing either single songs or medleys. Who makes the decisions about this? As, to me, it seems remarkably unfair that a 4-time Olivier-winning show should play second fiddle to shows it roundly beat! Just because it isn’t a ‘big’ show (what I mean is it’s not a Cameron Mackintosh production) doesn’t mean it won’t have expectant fans in the crowd, or that it wouldn’t be able to entertain the thousands gathered. And for the show least suited to an event like this (yes, Miss Saigon) to be allowed to perform three songs just takes the piss, quite frankly.
It did mean that my first West End Live experience ended on a bit of a sour note, but at least I have this video to look back on, eh?
“Come on, Nelson’s watching!”