Performed at the Dominion Theatre, London.
An idea two years in the making, West End Heroes combined a variety of West End performers with singers and musicians from the Armed Forces for a unique evening in aid of the charity Help for Heroes, hosted by Brian Conley.
The military services contain a number of regular musical troupes. On full display here were the Royal Air Force Squadronaires, an impressive big band that filled the Dominion’s large stage with a bright, engaging sound. The initial moments, forming a tribute to the three branches of service life with singers from the Army, Royal Navy and Air Force, had a gang show element to them. And while proceedings were enlivened by an accomplished, if rather muted, ensemble number from Some Like It Hip Hop, it was only when Rachel Tucker took to the stage and belted a note-perfect rendition of Funny Girl’s ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ that the ‘West End’ element really started to take shape.
After that showstopper, the comparatively winsome ‘Any Dream Will Do’ from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat felt like a bit of a comedown, but Daniel Boys’ delivery wrung as much character as possible out of a largely characterless song.
As the evening moved on, events bounced between the military and the musical theatre. Extracts from the current casts of Wicked, We Will Rock You, The Bodyguard and Spamalot demonstrated that, coming on the same weekend as West End Live, an indoor stage is the best way to experience extracts from current shows.
The biggest and most thrilling performance of the evening came from a show which hasn’t been seen on the West End stage for quite some time. Matt Flint and his team of dancers performed a glittery, high-octane tap rendition of 42nd Street‘s ‘We’re in the Money’ that opened Act II with a spirit and verve that lasted to the end of the night.
And it was the West End-level performers that consistently delivered the best crowd-pleasing moments, and generated the loudest applause. But their military counterparts were accomplished too – and the juxtaposition of the Royal Marines Drum Corps next to the rather more informal percussions of Stomp made one appreciate the theatricality and precision of the Armed Service’s performers.
It was a Les Miserables double that brought the house down. Geronimo Rauch was more fresh-faced than Jean Valjean has any right to be, but his ‘Bring Him Home’ was haunting – and gained all the more piquancy given the number of service people and their families in the audience.
The final number, a walkdown of the entire cast to ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, provided the musical theatre equivalent to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at a Proms concert – performers and audience united in a celebration of music, and the spirit it represented. West End Heroes may have taken two years to come to fruition, but there are already plans for another concert next year – and on the strength of this year’s show, it deserves to become an annual fixture in the West End calendar.