On Monday, the Royal Albert Hall hosted the very first Magic of the Musicals. A celebratory concert inaugurated by Magic Radio in association with its partners, and timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards.
The event, hosted by Tom Chambers & Ruthie Henshall, featured well over 100 performers – including a 53-strong orchestra and a group of future stars currently studying at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. A variety of well-known West End shows (both past and present) were represented by current London & touring casts, as well as a selection of star performers.
Many of you will be aware that I enjoy my musicals, and that I have a penchant for one in particular… That’s right, Sunny Afternoon was indeed on the bill! It’s a good thing it was, actually, as I probably wouldn’t have heard about it in time – and definitely wouldn’t have shelled out on such a good ticket. And I really would’ve missed out! One or two things aside, it was near enough a perfect show for me, so I’m doubly thankful that my favourites were performing.
As is normal with evenings like these, the script given to the hosts was basic and maybe a bit cringey in places – so it’s a good thing they were also there to sing! It really was a privilege to be there to hear Ruthie reprising some of the iconic roles she’s played during her career, a personal favourite of mine being her rendition of Cabaret. I’m constantly wishing for another revival, and that performance was a timely reminder why. Since winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2008, Tom Chambers has made a bit of a name for himself acting in classic shows such as White Christmas, also garnering an Olivier nomination for his role in the world première of the stage version of Top Hat. So it was only natural for him to bring that to the table, introducing a bit of good old-fashioned charm to proceedings.
Michael Xavier was on hand for a couple of songs during the evening, most notably the title track from the recent production of Sunset Boulevard. Both that & the orchestra’s performance of the overture made me kick myself for not managing to get to the Coliseum for the show’s limited run. A sumptuous, but occasionally menacing, score – and immaculately performed by both Xavier & the orchestra.
As soon as I saw Guys and Dolls at the Savoy earlier this year it became one of my favourite shows, so it was a real treat to see the touring cast onstage on Monday night. There had been a slight change to the programme, so not only did they do Luck Be A Lady in the first act, but they closed the show (in some style) with Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. It is absolutely one of my favourite show tunes, so I couldn’t have been happier with that surprise!
I don’t think I’d be overdoing it to say that it really was an honour to be in the same room as Kerry Ellis & Ramin Karimloo. Without doubt, two modern day musical theatre legends. Both of Ellis’ songs from Wicked (reprising her role of Elphaba) gave me goosebumps; Defying Gravity brought the audience to their feet and the evening to a bit of a standstill. Karimloo’s rendition of Jean Valjean’s Bring Him Home also triggered a standing ovation, however it was his first act performance of Music of the Night that really affected me – it’s another of my favourite show tunes, and was sung beautifully. It moved me to tears and is undoubtedly one of my greatest theatre experiences to date.
A few other shows featured, however my obvious standout came very near the end of the entire night: the Sunny Afternoon finale medley! Because of the eligibility criteria, this cast didn’t get the chance to go to the Oliviers – so this event was probably the closest equivalent. They are such a terrific band that it’s only fair they get the opportunity to play what was essentially a gig in miniature. The only act of the night to be self-sufficient (aside from those audience members brave enough to sing along to Lola!), and it was a really refreshing moment. As much as I love the classics & the general musical theatre style that ran through the evening, the boys did well to shake things up for a bit – I’d argue that they should have had a slot in the first act too, for the same purpose!
Sitting so close, I was able to watch them as they came on to set up; seeing them look up & attempt to take in their surroundings was a wonderful moment, as the surreal slowly became real. I grinned so much during their actual performance that my cheeks cramped, and I just about managed to not cry (though they would have been tears of joy)! It was a definite ‘proud mum’ moment for me, and a real buzz to hear that music in those surroundings. They managed to get the crowd clapping along, and the girls even got a bit of a cheer as they came onto the stage for the transition into All Day And All Of The Night! The whole thing was an experience none of us will forget.
The whole event was an absolutely unequivocal success (a sell-out, by all accounts), so I’m sure we will be seeing more like it in the future.
Magic of the Musicals will be broadcast on Mellow Magic on Sunday 29 May 2016 from 6-8pm.