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Samantha Barks - Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Samantha Barks? No, she doesn’t. But she sings very well.

If she had a penny for every time she heard that one, she probably wouldn’t be playing the role of Princess Elsa in the West End production of Disney’s Frozen eight times a week, as well as filming commitments for a casting show about the twenty-fifth anniversary cast of the West End production of Mamma Mia!, as well as putting on her own (admittedly, one-off) concert on her day off.

Then again, she might.

She’s one of those people who pursued her dream of musical theatre stardom from when she was a schoolgirl. She didn’t have much to say about her schooldays, though I imagine they weren’t exactly the best of times, given her remarks on trying to fit in but later discovering that what made her stand out were things she could, and has, to the best of her knowledge, used to her advantage. Thus, she finds herself standing on the stage of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane doing what she loves, and talking about what she loves too.

No mention, then, of That Pandemic. And why should she talk about that? As her support act, The Overtones, put it, “it’s a celebration”. If she was going to stand there and talk about lockdowns, she might as well stand there and talk about council tax, or the dangers of the overreach of artificial intelligence. Or worse still, This Morning.

Of course, first impressions count – there’s no point pretending otherwise, given Barks’ disarmingly good nature and honest sincerity. So when her band starts playing but nothing can be heard, and she effectively opens her set acapella, it’s borderline unforgivable.

There were, thankfully, plenty of showtunes – the thing about going to see musical theatre stars doing their own concert is that they can sometimes sing stuff completely alien to a theatregoing audience. As it was, when The Overtones, having done a couple of chart music numbers, said they would finish their set with ‘Stars’, some guy a few rows behind me yelled, “Fuck off!” and had to be shushed by his companions. I agreed with him – silently – a pop group singing anything from Les Misérables is not something I ever want to hear. What they meant by ‘Stars’ was the 1991 song written by Mick Hucknall, the Simply Red frontman. Phew.

Perhaps it was the earlier appearance of Bradley Jaden, with whom Barks sang ‘Falling Slowly’ from the Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová musical Once, that put myself and my fellow potty-mouthed patron in a Les Mis frame of mind.

Then there was Orfeh, whose husband Andy Karl is reprising Phil Connors in The Old Vic production of Groundhog Day, who starred with Barks in the Broadway production of Pretty Woman the Musical. Their duets were delightful – ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Chess the Musical (Barks had been a part of a concert production at Drury Lane in August 2022), and ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough’) – yes, I had to look up the exact title – the song made famous by Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer.

‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ from Mamma Mia! was an interesting dedication to Barks’ grandmother (it’s about a woman who realises, during a morning routine in which her daughter is preparing to head out for the day, “schoolbag in hand”, how quickly her daughter is growing up), though she spoke with that show’s leading lady, Mazz Murray, about the song. Murray had remarked that people of any age and in almost any situation can relate to it, and an emotional Barks appealed to the audience to treasure those whom we love, because the time we have available with them is ultimately finite.

Her father has good taste, with Barks dedicating the Act One closing number to him, as it’s his favourite song: ‘Never Enough’ from the motion picture The Greatest Showman.

Samantha Barks wasn’t going to do ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen. She does that on the Drury Lane stage eight times a week anyway, so if anybody wanted to hear that, they can jolly well come back to the same theatre – well, whenever really. But closing a show with ‘On My Own’ from Les Mis would have been a bit of a downer, so the encore just had to be ‘Into The Unknown’ (spoiler: it isn’t in the musical production of Frozen). On at just after 7:30pm, and off before 9:45pm, ensuring the Theatre Royal Drury Lane crowd got home at a reasonable time (public transport gremlins aside), this was a lovely evening with a palpably enthusiastic and talented woman who really was born to be on the stage.

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