Podcast Editor Matthew Seaman reviews “Monday Night At The Apollo” and “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”, celebrating the return of live theatre.

For the past year, I have written about the importance of theatre, clinging on to any hint of optimism I could find in the ever-shifting lockdown restrictions. Since March, London’s West End (along with the diverse range of regional theatre that the UK has to offer) has been dormant. Towards the end of 2020, we saw a brief glimmer of hope, as Nica Burns took the plunge and reopened her theatres for a small period over Christmas, but unfortunately that only lasted days. With indoor performances now finally permitted, according to the government’s tentative but irreversible roadmap, the curtains are up again.

In May, I attended the opening night of the “Monday Night At The Apollo” concert series at London’s Apollo Theatre, thanks to producers Greg Barnett and Hugh Summers. As part of the Rising Stars Festival, this show boasted fresh talent, and Barnett certainly delivered that with his energetic hosting. The audience was totally on his side, and the two-and-a-half hour event felt both theatrical and intimate.

I was particularly impressed by the vocal gymnastics of the incomparable Lucie Jones and Cedric Neal, whose voices complimented each other’s deliciously; it was a magical duet. “Six” the Musical’s Aimie Atkinson also belted some magnificent solo numbers. Similarly, the classical Broadway tracks, offered by the bubbly Cassidy Janson and the suave Julian Ovenden, made this evening whole. It was a smooth blend of ‘talk-show’ style conversation and Ronny Scott’s style music, with a sprinkle of Musical Theatre glitz. This group of talented artists all worked perfectly together, conversing periodically with Barnett, who acted as the Jools Holland figure. For me, the controlled, tight band was the cherry on top.

Cedric Neal (left) and Lucie Jones (right)

I took the time to rewatch this effervescent evening on the streaming platform, Thespie, and was delighted to see that the virtual audience’s live experience would have been equally pleasant. From the sometimes unintentionally hilarious anecdotes of Lucie Jones, through the emotional rendition of “Hold Me In Your Heart” (Kinky Boots), to Cedric Neal, this successful evening was certainly one to remember. A huge congratulations to those at Wild Mountain Productions for such a triumph. Their second show, on Monday 14 June, boasts the likes of: Jamie Muscato, Sandra Marvin, Sophie Evans, Shan Ako, and Arthur Darvill (who I am a particular fan of). Along with in-person tickets, you can still use the KINGS20 code to get discounted virtual access at Thespie.

In the same week, we saw the triumphant return of Nimax Theatres’ “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”, which subsequently celebrated its 1000th performance (also at the Apollo). The audience, limited to a fifty percent capacity, managed to cheer for all of those fans who couldn’t be there, and the building felt alive with support and gratitude.

The Creative Team at Jamie Musical

December’s looming apprehension and fear of an imminent closure was replaced with celebration and relief. Noteworthy mentions go to the powerhouse that is Melissa Jacques, and her superior rendition of “He’s My Boy”, Shane Richie’s hilariously nuanced “Hugo/Loco Chanelle”, and Noah Thomas, who appears to have really settled into the role of Jamie. Later on in the evening, following the bows, Thomas was joined by his predecessors: John McCrea and Layton Williams, who performed a brief track from the show together. It was a perfect “welcome home” for a much-loved musical. Below is an image of myself with McCrea, who has now left Jamie’s red heels behind to join Cruella’s gang in the 2021 Disney movie, “Cruella”.

Theatre is finally back, and along with “Jamie”, “Six” The Musical, “Death Drop”, “Les Miserables: The Staged Concert” and “The Mousetrap”, it has reopened its doors. I urge you to check the TodayTix app to see what’s on offer in London’s new, socially distanced West End. The experience feels safer than ever, with temperature checks, Test and Trace QR codes and spread-out seating. It is an extra bonus, knowing I’ve already had my first vaccine.

Ultimately, we are all holding out for the final stage of the roadmap, so we can ditch our masks (which are not fun in the warm theatres) and start hugging everybody again, because let’s face it – theatre-folk love to hug. Until then, I will continue to show my support in whatever way I can, exploring the new talent that is on the scene. This week, I will be seeing “J’ouvert” at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and I intend to be a little more daring in my viewing choices as we move forward.

John McCrea returns to the Apollo stage

Podcast Editor and Culture Writer for Roar News.

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