Sunday’s (generally) are a day of rest for those working in the theatre, however on Sunday the 6th of October, many of the cast and crew from the musical Wicked took to a new stage at the St. James Theatre to raise money and awareness for the charity Debra. Debra raise money for those who suffer from a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa which means their skin is prone to being fragile – blistering, leaving open wounds and sores. This show was full of immense talent ranging from vocalists to dancers, magicians and stand-up comedians all for a fantastic cause.
Hosting the show were the fantastic comedy-duo of Christopher Howell (Dr. Dillamond) and Harriet Thorpe (Morrible) who played off each other to great lengths while managing to not be cheesy. More on their antics later!
To open the show, Jackie Hughes, Michelle Pentecost, Gemma Atkins, Sophie Linder-Lee, Michelle Francis and Chöe Hart, a group of the girls who spend most of their time in the ensemble of Wicked, sang “Let Me Be Your Star” from TV show Smash, which is normally sung as a duet but succeeded brilliantly as a group number. It really worked in giving each individual a chance to shine in the song; they were also joined in this number partway through by leading lady of the show Gina Beck.
In between most numbers Chris and Harriet would re-join the stage and ask a question that some of the followers on their “@AskOz1” Twitter page had sent in, which gave a great personal touch to the show with fans being able to have their questions answered directly in the evening. Following this we witnessed a powerful duet between Jackie and Gemma of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”.
As I mentioned in my blog about the West End Presents, Kooman and Dimond are becoming quite well known in the UK thanks to Chlöe Hart, and so in the show they did a mini-showcase of three of their songs. Jason Winter sung the ballad “Drift”, followed by a comedic number by Sam Lupton with “To Excess” and to complete the set, Chlöe sung her faultless version of the beautiful “Out of My Head”. Since the evening I’ve seen many compliments about these three performances and questions about where to find out more about Kooman and Dimond so it definitely worked in showcasing the range of brilliant songs the duo produce!
Not only did the interludes between performances include questions, but short video clips from previous or current Wicked cast members were broadcast onto the screen behind the stage, therefore messages from Dianne Pilkington, Alexia Khadime, Rachel Tucker, the company of Wicked on tour, Louise Dearman and Hayley Gallivan were shown in slight intervals which only added to the personality and interactivity of the show.
Current swing and soon-to-be permanent standby Glinda Sophie Linder-Lee then dove into a new character of Mistress to “the Pope” in a hilarious rendition of “Call from the Vatican” from the musical “Nine”, stand-up comedy is something Sophie does as well as being in Wicked and you can tell she’s bloody good at it from the way she throws herself into comedic songs like this! Christopher Howell then jumped out of hosting to perform the jazzy “Messy Bessy” before introducing Harriet Thorpe back onto the stage to “share some anecdotes from her career”. In actual fact, while Harriet began to talk about her career, an image of Chris as if on a security camera appeared on the screen behind her showing him bad-mouthing her until gradually she frustratedly introduced the next act and departed the stage – all in jest of course!
Gemma Atkins who was previously in the ensemble of Wicked but recently left the show due to being pregnant then beautifully sung “Home” by Scott Alan with such heart. I’ve never seen Gemma perform outside of the show and that’s what I love about these sorts of events – you get to truly see and appreciate the individual unsung talent in some of the West End shows we see.
Putting some of the fantastic swings together with Oliver Brenin, Jackie, Sean Parkins and Paulo Teixeira created a hauntingly stunning rendition of “Poor Child” from The Wild Party, which Gina Beck then followed with “Cry Me a River”, completely putting her own soprano spin on it.
Adding to the comedy of the evening, current resident Wizard of Oz in Wicked, Keith Bartlett, performed a song called “Second Hand” in which I believe he was dressed part-Frankenstein?! With a fake hand to complete his act and act as the finale to it, it definitely gave us all a massive laugh, here’s a picture to explain the hilarity!
To inject some magic into the evening, ‘Magic Jamie’ did a set of unbelievable and comedic magic, from fooling everyone with a plastic dove from a handkerchief to the expected “How did he do that?!” card tricks – one audience member’s signed card ended up in a block of ice, honestly how do they do it?! Very impressive indeed, and even though a magician never reveals his secrets, Jamie almost divulged a trick of the trade, only with a little bit of help from slow motion effects and Gina Beck as his microphone-moving assistant!
Finishing the first act of the evening were some of the awe-inspiring dancers that are part of Wicked – Sean Parkins, Hannah Toy, Jason Winter, Stacey McGuire, Tom Muggeridge, Aisling Duffy and Paolo Teixeira, doing a routine to “Right Now” by Sean Parkins who is currently dance captain of the company. They really showed off just how good they are and closed the act leaving everyone with their jaws on the floor!
After an incredibly speedy interval (we’ll blame Magic Jamie for over-running his time slot ha!), Ben Freeman (Fiyero) opened the second act with “Live in Living Colour” alongside some of the fantastic girls in Wicked. Michelle Pentecost then took to the stage to perform a lovely rendition of “Fly Fly Away”, and continuing with the Catch Me If You Can theme, the girls re-joined her to do a fierce group number of “Doctor’s Orders”.
More variety was included in the evening via Ruth Keeling who gave cheeky anecdotes sometimes bordering on crude but hilariously so. Her material was definitely original and kept the audience giggling (well, some were crying with laughter, myself included at one point!) and sometimes in shock – for those who were there I just have to mention ‘sanitary towel’ and you’ll cringe I’m sure. Genuinely though she was very good and well received by our audience!
Back to the music! After recovering from the laughter we were able to listen to the dulcet tones of Sean Parkin’s voice as he sung “Know You Now”, usually if I see Sean in the show it isn’t a singing part so this was fantastic to hear. Oliver Brenin then sang “Quiet” by Jonathan Reid Gealt, taking on the typically female-sung song and making it sound gorgeous! Kate Rowley-Jones then performed a sublime version of “Cheek to Cheek”.
As well as music, dance, stand-up and magic, the cast had organised a raffle to take place during the second act, and the incredible prizes included signed copies of Louise Dearman’s album, Rachel Tucker’s album, a supply of Innocent smoothie drinks, a painting by Elphaba standby Hayley Gallivan and tickets to the Movies and Musicals which will be taking place at the Apollo Victoria theatre on December 1st.
Having shown off her comedic side earlier on in the night, Sophie Linder-Lee returned to the stage with her ukelele in hand to perform one of her own songs about the difference between men and women on public transport and the battle over armrests which I’m assuming is titled “Share”. She may doubt her ukelele skills but personally I thought the song was brilliant and I hope to see Sophie doing a few more stand-up gigs in the future as she’s got such a knack for it!
Next ensemble member and cover Nessarose Michelle Francis performed “Pulled” from The Addams Family, as I mentioned earlier it’s so refreshing to hear these ensemble voices on their own and that especially applies to Michelle’s performance as many of us haven’t heard her sing outside of the show – what a strong voice she has! Sticking with The Addams Family, Chlöe Hart and Sam Lupton then performed a fiery duet of “Crazier Than You”.
To give some context to the latter half of the next paragraph I must mention Chris and Harriet’s power-struggle throughout the show – frequently they would use ‘security footage’ of whatever the two were getting up to to sabotage the other, so Harriet trapping Chris in a lift, as well as bickering voice-overs.
The penultimate performance of the night was “Think of Me” from past-Christine Gina Beck, a performance that I think many in the audience were certainly looking forward to. It was an absolute pleasure to hear her sing this classic song as she’s so well renowned for playing the role and despite a few technical hitches in the backing track the whole song sounded beautiful. While she was singing, Harriet and Chris were messing around behind her as Harriet tried to stop Chris from getting through the doors at the back of the stage, however Chris managed to evade Harriet and sing with Gina as the Raoul in the song – a great light comical addition to the song!
As a reminder to us all of what we were there for on the night and who we were raising money for, Debra representative Tony Eccelshal came to explain further about the skin condition Epidermolysis Bullosa, how it affects people and the goals of the charity. It was truly harrowing to hear about some of the horrors the individuals have to face on a daily basis because of the condition, but uplifting to hear how the charity has already progressed, and how many people it’s been able to help, since its birth.
Closing the show, the cast of Wicked led by Gina Beck and Michelle Pentecost sung a gorgeous group number of “For Good” from the show, while a heartbreaking video of children with Epidermolysis Bullosa played behind them, an emotional but strong finish to the show!
When I heard how much they were planning to put into the show with all the magic and stand-up as well as music I was slightly apprehensive, sometimes it feels like too much crammed in, but I do believe they worked the balance very well. I also loved the song selections and think they suited well to all singing them. Everyone looked like they were having a fantastic night; it’s such a joy to hear all these talented individuals beyond the one or two solo lines some of them may have in the show.
A huge congratulations is in order to all involved in organising this event, it can’t have been an easy task! With 8 shows a week and so many people to schedule in to rehearsals for a cabaret like this it’s a very impressive feat, and everyone did such a great job, well done and thank you for a brilliant night!
Thanks to Fonsaca for many of the photos!