Review: The Great British Musical, Criterion

“How could this be the ending of our story?”

The Great British Musical was a showcase event at the Criterion Theatre, put together by the production company Perfect Pitch to celebrate British musical theatre both new and old through the performances of a cracking company of West End stars both established and upcoming. It was compered by Stephen Fry, the evening was led by Paul Herbert’s musical direction and supported by young performers from the MTA.

We were treated to songs from shows that are currently open: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe gave us a mini comedy routine before launching into a medley from Betty Blue Eyes including the title song which worked and ‘Nobody’ which I wasn’t too sure about (I’m still longing to hear the promised version by Liza); Steven Webb and Jack Shalloo gave us their ‘Long Sunday Afternoon/That Guy’ from Blood Brothers and Lloyd-Webber was well-represented too, especially by Stuart Matthew Price’s ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Shows that are no longer running were also featured, the most emotional of which was definitely Love Story and it was a delight, though tinged with sadness, to see Emma Williams and Michael Xavier reprising ‘Everything We Know’ (although it would have been nice to see ‘Pasta’ again!). And Jack Shalloo’s run through ‘Picture Book’ from Departure Lounge was a nice reminder of that show’s short run at the Waterloo East Theatre last year. I was personally a little disappointed to see Webb teaming up with Julie Atherton for their Just So medley, having seen it quite recently at her cabaret show, but then not everyone made it into the Trafalgar Studios 2 and her rendition of ‘Wait A Bit’ is something truly special that I will never tire of.

Some of the fun moments came with unexpected renditions of songs, sometimes gender-flipping, the best of these being Michael Xavier’s passionate ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ from Blood Brothers, backed by the ensemble. I was less keen on Alfie Boe’s ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard, a little bit too grandstanding rather than emotionally truthful, but Hadley Fraser & Dougal Irvine’s guitar-led medley from The Lion King was good fun.

But just as important as reflecting back is looking forward to the future and the talent that is being nurtured by Perfect Pitch, represented here by Laurence Mark Wythe, Dougal Irvine and Stuart Matthew Price. Particularly interesting sounding were Irvine’s new show The Buskers Opera featured by ‘Do You Want A Baby Baby?’ performed brightly by Emma Barton; Paul Keating’s ‘Time Will Tell’ from Wythe’s Through The Door and Price’s self-penned ‘Where I Wanna Be’.

As a showcase event, The Great British Musical did well at a hard time for the arts and had moments of great fun. And though I see why they chose the Criterion especially as it was a fundraising event too, I do have my doubts about holding events like this in big theatres though as it really does feel better suited to a more cabaret style venue. A greater intimacy would have worked better at breaking down the barriers with the sizeable amount of unfamiliar material for me and created a more forgiving atmosphere for the number of technical snafus that there invariably were: when one is paying a considerable amount for tickets, there’s a certain level of expectation even at a charity event and I don’t think it is too harsh to point this out. Anyway, it was still a fun night out and a great way to celebrate the communal love for musical theatre that so many share.

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