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Magic at the Musicals 2017 - Royal Albert Hall

It may no longer be acceptable for a male presenter of an event like Magic at the Musicals to be sexually suggestive, making comments, remarks and even physical moves towards people of the opposite gender. But sadly it appears to still be permissible for Mel Giedroyc to describe Jesus Christ Superstar headliner Declan Bennett as “my future husband”, to make derogatory remarks about the fresh-faced conductor, Jon Ranger, and to touch the top rear of a stagehand’s trousers. I felt sorry for the stagehand. He does not come to work to be assaulted in that (or any other) manner. Ranger seemed to just patiently wait out Giedroyc’s ‘banter’. Bennett must have had the last laugh, though. He just so happens to be gay; his nonchalance towards Giedroyc’s cringeworthy advances was subtly telling.

What was going on in between the many musical numbers did not detract too much from the enjoyment of proceedings. The producers were keen to stress that this musical theatre concert was being recorded for broadcast three evenings later. There is thus some scope for post-production editing (necessary, in fact, given the number of slip-ups from Giedroyc and co-host Ruthie Henshall made) but there’s only so much that can be done about certain audience members insisting on talking during the performance at full conversational volume.

The Royal Albert Hall staff had their work cut out trying to stop people filming and taking photographs. A rather momentary but nonetheless disgusted look from Samantha Barks towards someone in the audience meant she saw what many people saw, some woman blatantly filming Barks’ rendering of ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables. Another woman, filming Jon Robyns and Cassie Compton singing an extract from ‘The Wedding Singer’, refused to stop when asked to do so by another member of the audience, who found himself having to get up mid-performance and find a member of staff to assist. That steward then went on to run up and down catching at least half a dozen other people, one of whom had to be told more than once that recording the performance is strictly prohibited.

The musical theatre stars of tomorrow shined on the Albert Hall stage. A young adult choir comprised of students from the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts supported a number of tunes throughout the evening, and had their own chance to shine during a performance of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ from Sweet Charity. The Spirit Young Performers, whose previous credits include West End Live, gave the audience a compelling version of ‘Food Glorious Food’ from Oliver! I thought their accents could have been worked on a little harder (“’arder”?) – it all seemed a tad too polished.

My ‘exit poll’ tweet on Twitter singled out the ‘queens’ – Matt Henry’s Lola, singing ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ from Kinky Boots, and John Partridge’s Zaza, singing the iconic ‘I Am What I Am’ from the touring production of La Cage Aux Folles. Separately, because I can never fit what I want to say in 140 characters or fewer, I congratulated Marisha Wallace, in the current London cast of Dreamgirls, for two outstanding numbers, I Am Changing in the first half, then And I Am Telling You in the second. The belting was phenomenal, and well controlled, as it was with Rachel Tucker’s Elphaba, raising the roof with ‘Defying Gravity’ (or, the satirical revue Forbidden Broadway puts it, ‘Defying Subtlety’) from Wicked.

Previews galore were in store too: I was pleased to accept a press invitation to The Wind in the Willows just as I was finishing up this review. That show starts performances for a limited engagement at the London Palladium in June. There’s a definite Stiles and Drewe ring to ‘The Amazing Mr Toad’ and ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’, as performed in this concert. The Regents Park Open Air Theatre summer 2017 productions of On The Town and Jesus Christ Superstar are in good shape, and the newly appointed alternate Dewey Finn, Stephen Leask, gave an assured performance in ‘Teacher’s Pet’ from School of Rock. Hearing musical theatre numbers out of context may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as far as compilation concerts go, Magic at the Musicals is as good as they come.

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