alan jay lerner, andrew lloyd webber, broadway, charlie waller, charlie waller memorial trust, chess, dear evan hansen, eventim apollo, eventim apollo hammersmith, hammersmith, hedwig, hugh wooldridge, idina menzel, jesus christ superstar, jon robyns, josh groban, judy kuhn, kerry ellis, lion king, london, musical theatre, new york, phantom of the opera, rachel fabri, rent, rock musicals, royal albert hall, the night of the thousand voices, tim rice, tina turner, west end
Last May 12th, the Eventim Apollo Hammersmith was home to one of the most special evenings of the entire season. The Best of… Rock Musicals, a concert celebrating the greatest theatre tunes in the last 50 years, brought the house down with their outstanding homage to some of the most popular shows in History. Find out Guillermo Názara’s views on this unique performance featuring Broadway & West End’s most acclaimed talent – hosted by one of the men who made this genre a reality.
It’s a sunny evening in London. A rare ocassion – perhaps a prelude to some strange event. Crowded queues surround the towerings walls of the Apollo Hammersmith – finding their way into a grand hall facing an empty stage. Not a soul on it, not a sound to be heard, but the ones you already make in your head – visualising something unknown, yet somehow familiar to you. They say high expectations can be the grounds for high disappointment – especially when they will be playing with something so dear (at least for me) as musical theatre. This is simply not the case.
There are two kinds of magic shows: the ones that play tricks and illusions before your eyes and the ones who bewitch your heart. The latter is a short yet accurate description of what The Best of… Rock Musicals can offer. Jawdropping talent reinforced by staggering energy. This is much more than just a concert. In fact, that might not be the word to call this production, since Hugh Wooldridge’s narratively wise hand can be felt throughout the entire gig. Much like a traditional West End extravaganza, the show grabs your emotions from the very first minute, relying on the powerful chords of Jesus Christ Superstar title theme. From that moment, the History of rock musicals rises and with it, a carefully crafted show where staggering uptempos and peaceful but strong ballads succeed at brilliant pace. Some nights are to remember – this one is to never forget.
It’s often hard to find a cast you might call ‘flawless’. This may be the only issue I can see in this production – the singers and dancers do their job to such a perfect standard that now I feel I must fill this post with acclaiming lines dedicated to each artist. I’ll make a lousy excuse and say that it’s due to the Internet’s short writing style that I must sum this part up. Ricardo Alfonso (whose performance means his return to the stage after three years recovering from a throat problem) shows an incredible control of an astounding voice technique. We get to know him as Judas with his angry, fearful solo Heaven On Their Minds (probably one of the most passionate and intense versions I’ve heard of one my favourite rock musical songs) and from that moment on, he becomes a face you don’t want to miss.
Calmness is later achieved by the coming of Rachel Fabri, with her sweet, melancholic (yet full of attitude) rendition of I Don’t Know How To Love Him. No matter if it’s a simple, powerful stand-alone performance or a complex dance musical number, the stamina never goes down during this almost two-hour-journey around some of the best compositions by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John or Queen, among others. Judy Khun plays with the elegance and beauty that have always shone throughout her career, while Adam Pascal (now 48) has proven once again his young rockstar voice is a gift he’s not willing to give up on.
One special highlight is the wonderful contrast provided by Evita‘s tunes Buenos Aires and You Must Love Me. The first one shows off the outstanding abilities and experience both of the ensemble (let us remember this has been rehearsed in record time) and the impressive stage presence of Debbie Kurup – one step onstage and the audience is struggling not to stand up and cheer! That remarkable vibe is followed by the quiet passion given by Emma Kingston’s performance – hardly any movement, yet thousands of emotions projected and shared with an audience silenced by her touching acting.
But this review would not be complete if I didn’t talk about the two hosts we were blessed with (yes, blessed) during the evening. Once again, Tim Rice (no introduction needed) has made good use of his well-known charm, which combined with the fact that he is the creator of many of the songs we heard during the concert, made the event a worthy representative of the word ‘special’. On the other hand, Christopher Biggins (another familiar face to any lover of British entertainment) is a funny, warm addition that complements Tim’s natural allure. A perfect tandem for a perfect show.
And although one of its greatest appeals was that this production was, a Hugh Wooldridge himself claimed in my interview, “a once in a lifetime opportunity”, it would be too cruel of him not to bring this to London again – both for the ones who have already seen it and for those who wish to experience it for the first time. Of course, such a creative mind normally refuses to do exactly the same, so I guess next year we’ll be awaiting for more surprises and a brand new repertoire. Whatever the case, if its title begins with ‘The Best of…’ and you can read Hugh Wooldridge on the marquee, that’s a bet you can’t let go of.