Director: John Garfield-Roberts
Reviewer: Jonathan Grant
A full house at Wimbledon lent an air of great expectation to this inaugural show of musical theatre classics from innovative producers, Speckulation Entertainment. With an eye to ticket sales as well as production values, Gareth Gates topped the bill supported by leading West End talent.
Rachael Wooding opened, appropriately with One Night Only from Dreamgirls. With legs that went on forever, matched by cascading blonde locks, she looked as good as she sounded and set the tone and the standard for the programme to follow.
G4’s Jonathan Ansell and Emma Williams ( has there ever been a more scrumptious truly ?) duetted All I Ask Of You from Phantom. Interestingly, if the show had one slightly weak link it was Ansell, who when performing with his peers lacked a lustre. This song too, did not showcase Williams at her best and is one of the very few numbers that needs attention before the evening is repeated.
Daniel Boys came on to own the stage with Maria, from West Side Story. Boys has a youthful vivacity, an electricity in his appearance and a sublime voice to match his attributes. Each time he took the stage, his confidence and ability simply shone.
Gates debuted as fourth on the bill with one of his signature pieces, Close Every Door from Joseph. To say the audience was partisan would be an understatement as the man could do no wrong, however he sung delightfully with magnificent presence and charisma. With one exception, all of Gates’ songs were performed solo, without backing singers or dancers. This may well have been due to the artist’s hectic schedule ( he is currently appearing in Legally Blonde on tour), but it served to accentuate an air of superiority to the star that suggested a hint of perhaps unintended aloofness and a lack of teamwork among the company.
In Mein Herr, from Cabaret, Miss Williams was as sultry and seductive a Sally Bowles as could be wished for while the musical arrangement of the song was a refreshing variation on the traditional. The sleazily choregoraphed Fosse style routine that accompanied her was similarly first-rate, and the song was one of the evenings 5 star moments.
The second act saw Boys impress with Sondheim’s Being Alive, and as a delightful Rusty in the Starlight Sequence from Starlight Express. The disappointing feature of this song was Ansell as the Poppa character. The rôle demands a bass baritone for the magic to work between the two steam engines, lacking in this performance.
The evenings biggest numbers served as a crescendo to the shows finale. With Why God Why? from Miss Saigon, Gates truly earned his star billing. Ansell then performed a Gethsemane that was outstanding, receiving a modest standing ovation for his turn. Whether this adulation was due to Lloyd Webber’s Superstar currently on TV screens, who knows? But the singer gave his all to the performance, that was breathtaking to witness.
With No One But You from We Will Rock You, Rachael Wooding took on a massively moving song nailing it with poise and spine-tingling power, before duetting touchingly with Gates in Schwartz’s For Good from Wicked, even if that particular song is becoming a little familiar on the ear.
The creative team assembled under the talented Garfield-Roberts were faultless. George Dyer’s musical direction was lively and imaginative, Racky Plews’ choreography was as innovative and expertly drilled into the youthful ensemble and credit to Alan Wareham’s sound design, crystal clear in the rear stalls.
The show deserves to tour, see it if you get an opportunity.