West End LIVE 2016

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It was that time of year again. The day I choose to get up at 5.30am on a Saturday and head into town. Yes: West End LIVE!

Obviously, like last year, I had my reasons. My favourite show was on the billing again, and I wasn’t going to miss them being rockstars for the morning! And if you’re only really going for one thing (well, another ‘kinky’ show was a big incentive too), you may as well do it properly. Getting in the queue by 7.30am just so you can get near the front…

Somehow, time went pretty quickly. This year I was joined by Ksenia & Sarah, and we managed to keep ourselves occupied for the few hours we had to wait until the gates opened. We were possibly slightly delirious with tiredness until the caffeine caught up, so at least we had a bit of a giggle! And, right on cue at 9.45am (I may have had some inside information), there was a bit of a blast of Sunny from the stage. It was reassuringly loud!

So, we finally got in… For a bit more of a wait, while the same set of adverts repeated. And then I realised that they were using one of the same useless presenters (Lisa Vickery) as last year… If this sounds mean, just wait until later.

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Motown – The Musical kicked things off, bringing a bit of sunshine to the dry, but cloudy, day. I had this show on my list of ‘things I’d like to see’ in 2016, but now I’ve seen a few songs performed… They were really good, but as the story is apparently not great – I think I’ll live if I never make it over to the Shaftesbury Theatre while it’s resident there.

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Next up was a taster of the Watermill’s new production of Crazy For You, courtesy of Tom Chambers & a keyboard player. Pretty brave to go up there, in front of a fair crowd of people, and sing some classic songs with very little backing – especially following the all-singing, all-dancing display from Motown! But, thanks to Chambers’ charismatic presence, it all came off rather well. I wish I could get to see the show, but it’s sadly a bit of a trek for a limited run – so I’m very glad it got included.

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This year, Wicked decided against the gimmick of 2015 (they planted their Elphaba up on Canada House to sing Defying Gravity, presumably to the dismay of the dedicated fans who’d queued for hours to be at the front) and stayed firmly onstage this time. I keep meaning to go back to the Apollo Victoria; this gave me a great reminder why. I could’ve done without the really loud screaming from all around me, and definitely didn’t appreciate being an armrest for a girl behind me who seemed to be filming every single second of it…

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I’m running out of time to see Show Boat, but after their songs I’ll be trying a bit harder! It’s a very sad story, that they’re closing so much earlier than they had initially been booking for – it’s an absolute classic musical, but it seems like the lack of a famous face may have shot them in the foot… That, and being based quite out of the way at the New London Theatre. But their cast are absolutely terrific. Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man was a brilliant ensemble performance, with great entertainment value.

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Last year, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory bizarrely chose to showcase the musical by way of Augustus Gloop’s introductory song. This year, all of the shows appear to have been given extra time so they could perform more than one song (or a longer medley), so they could do another of the children’s songs (Juicy) as well as the classic Pure Imagination.

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Next came one of the things I was waiting for: Kinky Boots! Not only is it a brilliant show, but it features former Sunny Afternoon star Amy Ross as a lovely bonus. Excitingly, Arun Blair-Mangat was given the opportunity to put on the heels & go out as Lola – I’ve seen both Matt & Callum at the Adelphi, but was beginning to think I wouldn’t see what Arun was like in the role. It was a fantastic taster, so now I just need him to get the chance to go on at the Adelphi again… I also enjoyed getting to see Paul Ayres opposite him as Charlie, and Tim Prottey-Jones as Don.

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They performed Raise You Up/Just Be – a perfect choice, after recent events in the news. And it includes the entire cast, so it shows off the production perfectly.

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And then, it was time… Last year Sunny Afternoon performed the finale medley, and it left Jess & I a teeny bit disappointed (we got there at 7am to queue!) – so this year we were keeping our fingers crossed for a bit more. And we really were treated. Not just one song, not two – but (technically) four! The best way to kick off a mini-set for The Kinks is obviously You Really Got Me, so that is of course what happened. The ‘Top of the Pops’ dancing girls (Alice, Niamh & Harriet) even got a look in. For us, stood over on Tom’s side, we were very pleased to see him in full headbanging mode – whilst Oliver seemed to be in several places at once, hair everywhere!

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Next up, we went to Cardiff: Where Have All The Good Times Gone/All Day And All Of The Night. One of my favourite parts of the show, and prime material for a big music event. Though a bit less violence than usual! The set closed in the only way possible, with the title track. With Danny’s encouragement, the crowd sang along – and it felt really lovely. Personally, it was great to have a bit more time to take the whole thing in this year. And still get a fair amount of photos! The current cast haven’t been given a lot of promotional boosts, so it’s nice they’re finally being given more chances now.

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They seemed to get a really great reaction from the assembled crowd, and I couldn’t have been more proud. The only thing that would’ve made it better would be if they were able to play their own instruments rather than mime… It’s more obvious with this show than many, as their backing track is from the original cast recording – which sounded different enough to the original cast performing live, let alone the current cast performing live! Poor Damien at the back on the drums definitely had the biggest challenge, having to learn a pretty distinct drum track from what he’s used to.

The band are a very slick live outfit, so we can only hope that they are given some more opportunities to play as a group before the show closes in October.

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And with that… We left! Nothing else that was scheduled for the day could top our Sunny quarter of an hour, so we bid a hasty retreat. Though not before the aforementioned airhead presenter renamed the show ‘Summertime’. Yeah, I told you I wasn’t being mean!

Somehow the whole weekend stayed pretty much dry, and it sounds like those who went for the duration had a wonderful time. It’s a fabulous event to show off everything the West End has to offer, and all for free. There will be no Sunny in 2017, but assuming West End LIVE is back I most definitely will be too – though following a bit of a lie-in this time perhaps…

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