The WestEnders performed at the Savoy Hotel, London.
Star rating: 3 stars ★ ★ ★
There can be few more civilised ways to spend a Sunday evening than supping cocktails in the sumptuous environs of the Savoy Hotel’s Thames Foyer. One can take in the exquisite alabaster architecture, the pop art paintings of the Hotel’s more famous guests (from Hitchcock to Callas and Monroe) and marvel at the changing light through the foyer’s beautiful art deco glass dome as daylight turns to dusk.
And occasionally, one can do all that while also listening to a selection of West End standards. The WestEnders are an 11-strong collective of performers (under the musical direction of Jae Alexander) who first met when performing in Les Misérables, and have formed a tight collection of sets that they perform in hotels and cruise ships around the world. A six-strong group of WestEnders are playing a series of occasional nights at the Savoy throughout the year (onstage at the Savoy this time were Linda Jarvis, Jill Nalder, Frances Fry, Adrian Grove, Andrew Newey and Nathan Taylor).
The demands of an open hotel environment, through which guests may be walking while others sit and listen, mean that there is less opportunity for a relationship between performers and audience than in other forms of cabaret environment. Perhaps this is why The WestEnders keep any speech between songs to an absolute minimum, pausing from their singing only to introduce the next musical number or medley. While it doesn’t provide the sense of intimacy that some cabaret venues can provide, it does ensure that the hits come thick and fast.
And hits they are, for this is a cabaret set designed for a general audience that wants recognisable standards. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue forms a persistent spine throughout the evening, with a couple of substantial sequences running through the best bits of Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, as well as the breakout hit from Whistle Down the Wind, ‘No Matter What’ – albeit with a rendition delivered to appeal to those for whom it has more association with Boyzone than its original theatrical setting. The same could be said for ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ – which, although hailing from Brigadoon, is better known as a pop standard in its own right.
While in general the tone is bright and breezy, torch songs such as Oliver!’s ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ and Blood Brothers’ ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ do allow moments of more sober reflection. But while each of the WestEnders’ soloists carry themselves well, the true strength comes when all six members of the cast form a complete ensemble. And as an ensemble they certainly form a slick operation, with their entrances, exits and onstage movements running like clockwork.
If anything, such animated comings and goings are something of a distraction throughout, being better suited to a cruise ship stage than to a corner of a square room. When the singers are all ‘onstage’, watching one or two of their castmates come forward to sing, there is the capability of eye contact and emotional connection with the audience that the Thames Foyer really needs.
The rousing finale of the evening is, of course, from the musical where the WestEnders first met. And if you can put to one side the incongruity of the revolutionaries’ songs of Les Misérables being performed in sequinned evening gowns in one of London’s most sumptuously extravagant hotels, it provides a fitting conclusion to the evening’s entertainment. The WestEnders may be sticking to the well-loved, popular end of the musical theatre repertoire, but the selection is ideal for the Savoy’s audience.