West End Eurovision 2018
Reviewed – 22nd April 2018
“Fabulous and hilarious”
The countdown is on to the sixty-third annual Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, and although less than a month away it still seems a little premature to find a crowd of flag wielding and sequinned celebrants spilling onto the pavements outside the Shaftesbury Theatre. But on closer inspection, they are gathered for “West End Eurovision”, the spectacular charity production with its welcome return after a three-year absence.
Established in 2008, West End Eurovision is one of the core fundraising events produced by TheatreMAD (the ‘Make A Difference Trust’). It sees West End shows competing against each other singing original Eurovision songs, hoping to win the votes of the audience and their fellow competitors, and the approval of a panel of celebrity judges. But unlike the real shebang, the competitive spirit is absent – everybody is in it together to have a good time. And the real winners are the audience.
All-rounder Richard Gauntlett leads the proceedings, a man totally at home on the stage delivering in-jokes with the ability to mock and congratulate ‘showbiz’ both at the same time. To be a target of his satire is considered an honour. His banter is matched by the three judges: comedian, writer and actor Tom Allen, West End and TV star John Partridge and showbiz legend Arlene Phillips. But let’s cut to the chase – the reason we’re all here – which is the high-camp razzamatazz of each act’s performance. Selected cast from eight current West End Musicals give their own unique interpretation of a past Eurovision entry song.
The cast of “Hamilton” kick off the evening with a driven, streetwise rap version of ‘Cliché Love Song’. Next up is “Young Frankenstein” with ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’. “42nd Street” start off with a conventional ‘Boom Bang A Bang’ before Lulu interrupted and they switched into a roof raising rendition, culminating in Lulu’s trademark wail intro for ‘Shout’. The energy doesn’t drop throughout the night and with the “Kinky Boots” kick-ass rendition of ‘Warrior’ the roof began to look in danger of, literally, being brought down. After interval “Dreamgirls” superbly sent up Bucks Fizz with a parody of the original ‘Making Your Mind Up’, before hurling themselves into their own version of the song with as many tempo changes as harmonies. “Mamma Mia” performed ‘Undo’ and “Aladdin” fittingly closed the running order with the aptly titled ‘Drama Queen’.
And the winner is … (being a one night only event this is obviously not a spoiler) “Phantom Of The Opera” with a dramatic ‘Rise Like A Phoenix”. Fabulous and hilarious, Conchita would have adored this performance, complete with fake beards of varying, comic unshavenness (yes, that is a word). For me, it was a close run between them and “Dreamgirls”, but “Phantom” deserve the trophy. And the cherry on the cake is to have the award presented by Graham Norton.
With guest appearances from SuRie, our Eurovision representative this year in Lisbon, performing ‘Storm’, followed by Lucie Jones singing last year’s entry ‘Never Give Up on You’, this was a high energy show from which you do leave on a high. But we are not allowed, and quite rightly so, to ignore the serious side. TheatreMAD: the Make A Difference Trust raises funds for HIV and AIDS projects that build awareness and provide care, support and education in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa. Long may this annual event continue, and long may the Trust fly the flag for this totally mad night.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Darren Bell
West End Eurovision 2018