Wednesday 15 August 2012

Dress Circle Benefit - One Year On - A Review

Her Majesty's Theatre, London


Today, sadly, Dress Circle, a wonderful store dedicated to all things Musical Theatre, closes its doors.

Many months ago, when closure was first signalled, two dedicated young actors James Yeoburn and Stuart Matthew Price, almost Blues Brothers like, put together a show that culminated in a glorious August 2011 evening at Her Majestys Theatre that was a stunning line up of the West End's finest.

I reviewed the show then, but it has not been until now that my review , which had been lost, has now re-surfaced. Its a pleasure and an honour to re-post it. The store was amazing, and the evening was stellar.


Remember The Blues Brothers, on a mission from God, to save the orphanage they grew up in?
Fast forward 30 ( ok, almost 33...) odd years,  swap the orphanage for Dress Circle, and replace Jake and Elwood Blues  with Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn, and you start to get close to the magic of the Gala concert that graced the stage at Her Majestys
The one thing that both that movie and the Gala had in common was the most outstanding line up of artistes, wishing to be associated with the project.
Simon Lee had rehearsed his 30 piece orchestra to perfection – listening to them, it was hard to believe that this was the first public performance of that ensemble, and that they were not in fact performing that set together 8 times a week.
Without exception ALL the performers on stage were outstanding.
For this writer, though the "ultra-stellar" moments of such an evening, came from those rare moments when the persona of the actor got so wrapt within the performance, that they were truly giving of their soul.
Rebecca Caine sang Think of Me 25 years after her on-stage Christine.  An operatic  performance of crystal delivery, that as she herself tweeted  "I was so overwhelmed by the emotion and ovation I nearly cried. It was like a wall of sound hitting me". With Frances Ruffelle too, spines tingled as A Heart Full of Love was recreated with Jon Robyns.
Then there was the Ellen Greene moment. Ellen was listed in the programme as singing Between, from Betwixt, in the first half. She was great. What the audience did not realise was that she had actually been expecting ( and rehearsing ) to sing Somewhere That’s Green, from Little Shop of Horrors having gone to the effort of having her Audrey wig flown over to London specially for the song.  So when Aled Jones, the evening’s host, interrupted the second half, to introduce this unlisted addition to the evening, the audience went wild .
When that song was first recorded Greene's voice had a wonderful almost hallmark fragility to it. Now, some 25 years later ( and perhaps following the tragic death of Howard Ashman?) singing the song was hard. As Ellen sang, she struggled in what what was clearly a difficult moment. But in a defining expression of excellence, she pulled the performance back, and as the bars rolled by she didn’t just sing the song, she positively nailed it.  On the final notes, as the audience almost to a man rose to salute her,  she wept.  To witness such a performance was more than a joy, it was a privilege.

Dougal Irvine and Laurence Mark Wythe delivered their specially composed number for the night, The World of The Show, that not only evoked the wit of Noel Coward, but also left one confident that the future of British musical theatre composition is in safe hands.
The penultimate number , Bui Doi from Miss Saigon had the inimitable Peter Polycarpou reprising the role of John that he created, backed by a youthful chorus of current West End professionals , again raising the hairs on the back of my neck.
To quote Oliver, could I have possibly asked for more from an evening of such riches? Well to my mind, a nod to Rogers & Hammerstein and Kander & Ebb would not have been out of place, nor would the acknowledgment perhaps of the current contribution of Juke Box Musicals to the strength of current West End / Broadway box office takings. Whilst the trend for JBMs is arguably blocking the path for new writing, those shows do nonetheless, and on a weekly basis, provide musical theatre entertainment for thousands and further, employment for hundreds more. But these greedy comments of mine are mere bagatelles when set against the wonder that was presented on stage last Sunday.
As Sardines Magazine commented " … make no mistake, there was not one person on that stage that did not shine " and as a foundation for an annual ( or  biennial at least ? ) event, Messrs Price and Yeoburn have created a precedent that will be nigh on impossible to live up to.



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