Review of 'West End Live 2017'

http://www.westendlive.co.uk/

For 13 years now West End Live has brought us a free sample of various music acts from the West End stage on a weekend in June and I have tried to attend every year. It is a good opportunity to see whether you might be interested in attending any of the shows that perform here. Every year, however, it gets bigger and bigger from it's humble beginnings in Leicester Square under the trees to now dominating Trafalgar Square. Arriving just before it opened on Saturday (June 24th) the queue to get into the square was about 1/4 of a mile long, winding it's way up Haymarket then around the corner to opposite the Prince of Wales theatre. 45 minutes later I was in the extremely busy square quickly passing through the security check.

The main stage, at the base of Nelson's column, is the main attraction but there were a number of other tents set up with people like the “Museum of London”, “Everything's Rosie”, “Disney Theatrical Productions”, “Theatres Trust”, “Oxford Street”, “English National Opera”, “London Film Museum” and “Forbidden Planet” (a long standing supporter of West End Live) also here though most were concentrating on providing entertainment for the younger crowd (face painting, dress up, etc). The square was wall to wall people so much so that I was pushed up against the terrace embankment walls near the toilets probably more than 50 meters from the stage (and off to the side). It was incredibly difficult to get around the area with the occasional snake of people struggling to get past. The crowd did thin out as the day went on with the biggest and most popular acts on earlier in the day (the likes of “Disney's Aladdin”, “Wicked”, Motown the Musical“, and “Kinky Boots”). The sound was not great unless you were standing in front of the stage or if you were special enough to be in the large “Guest Enclosure” (hospitality) or on the steps outside the National Gallery (also reserved). This was not helped by the ever circling presence of police helicopters (at one point we were encouraged to give them a wave for some reason). The music was loud and brash with the crowd struggling to hear never mind understand what the performers were singing (even the official recordings on YouTube are not that great).

Each act was introduced by radio DJs from Heart radio station and there were video segments where a reporter visited the various tents around the square explaining for those two stuck to get there (!) what the groups were doing there. A big thing was made of the key involvement of Cllr Robert Davis who founded West End Live and who appeared in several segments including some amusing recorded items where he attempted to interview the cast of “The Play That Goes Wrong” (including showing up at the wrong theatre).

I come to hear some of the shows that i have not seen yet so here are some of my thoughts on the performances:

  • Thriller Live - A great mix in the young cast with one certainly looking a lot like Michael Jackson and particularly good at moonwalking (and grabbing his crotch) but not very good at singing. They did a good assortment of songs here but it is a bit hit and miss as to the quality of the singing and/or dancing.
  • Beautiful - The Carole King Musical - A good selection of classic rock music but did not really get the crowd that excited. They performed a few numbers with great costumes and amazing choreography. Beautiful is set to close later this summer.
  • Half a Sixpence - A revival of a popular classical-style musical here performing “Flash, Bang, Wallop” with great enthusiasm. Looks really good and sounded great too.
  • Dreamgirls - Performing “Love Me” this got a great response from the crowd though it did not really grab me. The singer certainly has a great voice though.
  • Kinky Boots - Performing “Land of Lola” this was a very showy number that the crowd went insane for (indeed, after they performed the crowded dropped by several hundred) with a lot of flashy costumes hidden initially under black smocks. The lead singer here, dressed in drag, was amazing.
  • Les Misérables - Been running forever in the West End (the longest running now). I was waiting for other performances but enjoyed their rendition of “Bring Him Home” and “One Day More”. Fantastic music and great to see pretty much the whole cast on the stage. Interesting that they have been at every single West End Live weekend since they began.
  • Annie - Having only just started, the performance consisted of “The Sun Come Out Tomorrow” (ironic considering it was trying to rain at the time) with a great cast of enthusiastic kids.
  • Phantom of the Opera - An OK performance of “Music of the Night” but the shine seems to have left this musical since pretty much everyone has seen it. More than once.
  • Matilda, the Musical - An amazing performance by a single young girl (Matilda, of course) singing a great little number “Naughty”. Incredible voice and presence to be on the stage performing by herself complete with choreography.
  • An American in Paris - “New York, New York” performed impeccably with fantastic, classic, choreography.
  • Mamma Mia - Performing “Dancing Queen” this is always a popular show though the crowd did not respond as strongly as I would have expected. Perhaps, like Phantom, this musical has now played out it's time.
  • Five Guys Named Moe - This musical has not yet started and, indeed, the players had not even started practices so gave us a bit of a taster for the show that will be put on in a “Speakeasy” at Marble Arch at the end of the summer. A great selection of fun 30s/40s music with a strong looking cast.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar - Playing in the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park shortly (playing a second year there after a sell-out last year) this performance of “Heaven on Their Minds” was tremendously powerful and makes me think it might be good to go and a have a look at it…

West End Live is very much a victim of it's own success and is so popular that seeing it now is more of an ordeal than a pleasure. The massive numbers of people, and the poor sound really detracted from what could have been some amazing performances. Until a bigger venue is found (perhaps Hyde Park) I can't see this getting any better and, in fact, I can see it getting even worse. I really think it is an amazing idea but until something is done to address the logistics there will be people that are put off by the whole thing. Obviously this event is meant to show people what is on offer and to encourage them to buy tickets but I am not sure West End Live demonstrates this now in the best light.

BTW, the Sunday is always less busy but does not have the number of acts or the big shows…

Rating:

Review Date: 2017-06-24



Trafalgar Square

Location: London (England)

Address: Trafalgar Square, London ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Leicester Square TUBE Charing Cross TUBE Embankment

URL:

The heart of London this paved square sits a stones throw from the House of Parliament and Leicester Square. Now entirely pedestrianised on the north is the National Gallery, to the east is St Martin's in the Fields (church), to the west is “Canada House” and on the south side of the square is Nelson's column with four large bronze lions at it's base. The square itself has two large fountains. The elevated section outside of the National Gallery has stairs leading down into the main square itself. There are toilets and a small cafe located in the square. Since they have started using a bird of prey there are very few pigeons compared to the way they used to be…