A Very Musical Evening, Wilton’s Music Hall

It’s a sobering thought, but every 24 hours in Britain, another six young people are diagnosed with cancer. Teenage Cancer Trust is working to provide dedicated units within hospitals to provide specialist support for young people and their families.

Anthony Drewe, one half of Honk! and Mary Poppins writing duo Stiles and Drewe, will at the end of October embark on a gruelling trek through the Himalayas to raise much needed funds for the charity (you can donate at his JustGiving page). And for the same charity, he and Elliot Davis (who will also be trekking) put on Sunday night’s fund-raising concert.

And it was a superb, unique evening that it was an intense privilege to attend.

The great thing about charity gigs, I guess, is that the calibre of performer you can get for your money is so much higher. This was emphasised from the off with the current trio of divas from the Palace Theatre’s Priscilla: Queen of the Desert – Portia Emare, Emma Lindars and Charlotte Rigby – who opened the show with a selection of belting R’n’B numbers.

Stiles and Drewe are peerless when it comes to writing inventive, comic (or heart-rendingly emotional) musical theatre numbers. It was little surprise, of course, to hear so many of their songs, but to do so is always a pleasure. From their own performance of their song about the downsides of nouvelle cuisine, A Little Bit of Nothing on a Big White Plate, to a superb speed-written number including a number of words suggested by the audience, the pair are delightful to watch when performing together.

Put their songs in the hands of other performers, though, and they really fly. Hannah Waddingham’s hilarious turn in Diva (a number from their forthcoming Soapdish musical) about a star who has “fascinating rhythm, but excruciating pitch”, evokes memories of Les Dawson at the piano, starting well but getting progressively worse, and increasingly funny, as the tune progresses.

And Gareth Gates, in a rare day off from performing on the Les Miserables tour and on his second one-off show of the evening having previously performed at the New Wimbledon Theatre, brought a poignant delicacy to his rendition of They Don’t Make Glass Slippers from the long-gestating Soho Cinders.

We were also treated to little previews of Stiles and Drewe’s newest West End project, their adaptation of Alan Bennett’s A Private Function, now renamed Betty Blue Eyes, as well as a couple of numbers Elliot Davis and James Bourne’s forthcoming Loserville. Both musicals open in 2011 and, while Theatreland will continue to be dominated by the long-running musicals, the fact that there will be new shows joining them is a cause for optimism.

Despite its title of A Very Musical Evening, the show wasn’t all about musical theatre. To be honest, when it moved in to other areas of entertainment it was less successful. The Casablanca Steps, a 1920s-style comedy four piece, aren’t to my tastes, while mentalist Lawrence Leyton had a couple of misfires in his routine.

A definite highlight, though, was the three-song set by Jonathan Groff. The Broadway and Glee star is currently over here playing opposite Simon Russell Beale in the thriller Deathtrap, and while are both superb in that it’s a shame that the play does not provide an outlet for his musical abilities. As such, to be part of the small audience appreciating his talents made an already special evening all the better.

Please donate to Anthony Drewe’s Himalaya Trek and help the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.