Yesterday, I was kindly invited by Kevin Wilson PR to attend a charity concert in aid of Crohn’s and Colitis UK, with a one-off performance of Stephen Schwartz’s musical Children of Eden. With a book by John Caird and best on the book of Genesis, as Bibically inspired musicals go, it’s… well, it’s better than Godspell.
Seriously, there were some great musical performances (especially from Louise Dearman and Lauren Samuels) and it was great to see so many current and future West End stars come together, donating their time for such a worthy cause.
The reason I was invited was, once again, to take party pictures for The Stage. Because Friday was the company’s own annual party, the pictures won’t be in the paper until February 8 at the earliest, but you can see them here first. They’re also visible on my Flickr account.
Fellow Dorothy Stephanie Fearon may have beaten her to a regular musical role by appearing in a fringe revival of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, but by taking over as Sandy in Grease, Lauren Samuels becomes the first of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow contestants to gain a West End lead role.
This show has proven a useful stepping stone to reality show performers in the past – hardly surprising for a musical whose 2007 leads were directly cast by ITV. Both Noel Sullivan, the current Danny, and Matthew Goodgame as Kenickie (understudying as Danny at this performance) first came to public attention through television, with Popstars and Musicality respectively.
The choice of Samuels to play ingenue Sandy proves an intelligent one. The relentless perkiness she displayed on television transfers perfectly to create a likeable and vulnerable character. Her strong vocals come to the fore throughout, no more so than in the solo Hopelessly Devoted to You, the musical highlight of the evening. Less successful is Samuels’ body language, which struggles to convey emotion as well as her voice does.
Also new to the cast is Siubhan Harrison as Rizzo, who makes a convincing firebrand as leader of the Pink Ladies, effectively capturing the cracks in her facade without weakening the character during her own second act number.
As with many West End musicals where the audience contains a substantial proportion of foreign tourists, the book gets a more muted response than deserved. It’s the song and dance numbers that they are coming for, though, and on that score there is much to enjoy.