Tuesday, 30 September 2014

West End Heroes - Review

Dominion Theatre, London

Flt Lt Matthew Little and Tiffany Graves

One of the treats of reviewing shows is to be thrilled by on-stage excellence in theatres around the country. It is however a rare privilege to be humbled too. But to sit in a packed Dominion Theatre and witness the cream of the nation's performing talent and armed forces, joining forces for Help For Heroes was to see a night where our top-flight troopers and troupers became indistinguishable.

Michael Ball, he of National Treasure status and the reigning daddy of Britain's musical theatre world hosted the gig bringing just the right combination of gravitas and levity - and that was before he sang. Ball’s act one closer of Andersson and Ulvaeus' Anthem made spines tingle, leading to the first standing ovation of the night. And at a show supporting the sacrifices our servicemen make, his Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (and remember that Ball was Les Miserables' original Marius) carried a rare poignancy, marking those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. 

Notable at the gala were the dozens of West End performers who had given up nights off to hoof some of their shows' biggest numbers. The Evita cast re-staged a marvellous Buenos Aires, whilst in the second half the boys from Miss Saigon gave a tear-inducing Bui Doi with Hugh Maynard, who has clearly grown into the role of John since the show opened a few months ago, owning both stage and song with an inspirational passion.

Collabro, the boy band with a hint of musical theatre and this year's Britain's Got Talent winners gave the first Les Mis contribution of the night with their famously spine-tingling take on Bring Him Home. Tiffany Graves together with the RAF's secret (singing) weapon of Flt Lt Matthew Little was then to give a brilliant Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better capturing the sparkling wit of the song's rivalry with the airman's tenor tones proving more than a match for Graves' poise and polished professional perfection. That they weaved in and out of dancers and military bandsmen during the number only added to the immaculate comedy timing of the performance. 

Matt Flint's choreography was a treat throughout, never bettered than in the Sherman Brothers' Step In Time, complete with the number's hallmark aerial tap routine that saw Freddie Huddlestone dance himself around the full 360 degrees of the Dominion's gaping proscenium arch. A special note to those masters of aerial theatre Flying By Foy, who had managed to rig the spectacular stunt in record time.

Oliver Tompsett with Jo Gibb led some beautiful wartime songs in a preview of Songs for Victory, Woman The Band gave a novel take on A Hard Day’s Night and backing for many of the evening’s soloists came from the West End Choir, made up for the night from technical and front of house folk from across the capital's theatre scene.

The night was a sparkling collection of gems. Louise Dearman blazed her way through possibly Ahrens and Flaherty's finest song, Back To Before, whilst in a pre-Xmas show promotion Wendi Peters' White Christmas created a singalong mood that was as cheesy as it was lovely. To a backdrop video of serving soldiers, Daniel Boys and Lauren Samuels gave Michael Buble's Home a distinct and moving resonance.

Les Mis was to offer the evening's rousing close with Do You Hear The People Sing, but not before Carrie Hope Fletcher, a woman who is simply all beautiful voice, hair and stunning presence gave what must have been her 9th (?) performance of On My Own that week. Ball introduced Fletcher, commenting that 12 years ago the much younger actress had played Jemima to his Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - hers remains truly a career to watch.

But enough of the performers - what of the music? Under Stuart Morley's arrangement and direction and Wing Cmdr Duncan Stubbs’ expert baton, The Central Band Of The Royal Air Force, the big band sound of The Royal Air Force Squadronnaires, The Band of HM Royal Marines, The Band Of The Queen’s Division and The Queen’s Colour Squadron Air Force Regiment gave an accompaniment that was, as one would expect, immaculately rehearsed and drilled, proving to be a spectacular tribute to London's pit orchestras whose work they replicated superbly. 

And in referring to the military contribution to the night, here is where one must pause and reflect.

Our fine actors (or rather of course, those fortunate enough to be in employment) give of their brilliant all 6 days a week. But for Our Boys and Our Girls in uniform, service under the military covenant is 24/7. In a world that is increasingly terrifying, these personnel represent the very best of our nation, literally putting their lives on the line to defend our democratic freedoms. Theirs' is truly a 5* performance, all year round.

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