Cambridge Theatre, London
Willemijn Verkaik, originally from The Netherlands, is best known for playing Elphaba in the West End production of the internationally adored musical, Wicked. She’s performed the role in 4 countries and after storming Broadway in 2013, is the only actress to have sung the role in three languages. Additionally, Verkaik is known for her performances as Kala in Disney’s musical Tarzan (in Germany), as well as lead roles in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Mamma Mia.
The evening marked Verkaik’s second London concert in as many years and after her previous roaring success, two of Wicked’s current and past Glindas, Suzie Mathers and Savannah Stevenson, joined her, alongside current West End talent Tyrone Huntley and Celinde Schoenmaker. Verkaik’s vocals were flawless throughout the informal evening and it’s no wonder that she’s been entrusted with one of the most vocally challenging roles in the canon, across the globe, for nearly a decade.
It has to be said about the high belting performer that, despite all of her deserved success, there is a quirky awkwardness to her character that keeps her wholesomely grounded. In her self-deprecation and an ability to laugh at herself, she is nothing less than endearing. In a bold move, Verkaik broke down the barriers of simply sticking to a typical musical theatre set, by introducing decade-spanning pop and folk numbers. Particularly well received was a George Michael medley that closed the first act.
However, despite the 90 minutes of vocal gymnastics, one must question the actual reason behind producing the concert - or rather the seemingly lack-there-of. Less well received on the night was an acappella mash-up of numbers from Wicked, sung as a trio between Verkaik, Stevenson and Mathers. The medley, while at points impressive, was occasionally vocally sloppy and not to the standard that would be expected of three Broadway and West End leading ladies. The arrangement came across as all too quickly thrown together, dragged on for far too long and seemed to fail in carrying the audience’s interest.
This messy "last-minute" vibe can in no way be applied to Theo Jamieson’s 8 piece band, with the musical director's keyboard playing proving crisp and precise, pouring pure class into each number. Similarly the skill displayed by violinist Ciaran McCabe was nothing short of breath-taking. McCabe's performance in one of Verkaik’s own songs, A Little Smile, was one of the gig’s most moving moments.
The highlight of the evening however was unquestionably Verkaik’s duet with Huntley, the West End wunderkind and a wow in both Dreamgirls and Jesus Christ Superstar. The pair brought the audience to silence with a stunning rendition of the 80’s power ballad, How Do You Keep The Music Playing. Huntley’s vocals were faultless and it is no wonder that he is the most interesting and promising talent in Britain at the moment.
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy