As white noise melds with tuning instruments and rumbling bass at the beginning of The West End Men‘s show it feels like the countdown to a majestic, flaming rocket launch.
That’s not what happens. There are a few fireworks in this concert showcasing the vocal talent of a quartet of London’s leading musical theatre males with a leading lady thrown in for good measure, and while I could quip about heavenly bodies, Lee Mead, Matt Willis, Glenn Carter and David Thaxton stay exquisitely tailored for most of the performance.
Instead West End Men is an evening of warming performances; quality singers singing quality songs with little else to distract. Kate Unwin provides a sparse set of steps and curtains, Matt Eagland’s lighting is unobtrusively simple and Mitch Sebastian’s direction and choreography features much casual sauntering, middle-distance staring and relaxed perching. It all allows the performers and the songs to remain the focus.
Act 1 introduces us to the cast. Former Jersey Boy Carter revisits his past in Jesus Christ Superstar with a passion-filled performance of Gethsemane while Willis, in perpetual motion all evening like a loveably hyperactive slinky, raises a smile by returning to his Busted roots to sing Year 3000. Mead offers a subdued version of Close Every Door, the signature tune from his victory in TV show Any Dream Will Do, following it with an emotional rendition of Coldplay’s Fix You. But Olivier Award winner Thaxton steals the show early on as the only performer singing a song not originally his, the soaring Til I Hear You Sing from Love Never Dies, which he starred in, but not in that role. The hairs on my neck leapt with excitement.
Act II brings a more relaxed tone and reveals a little more about the performers as the banter increases, Thaxton’s charisma shines through and Willis visibly pours everything into his performance. Ellis’ arrival prompts a couple of tunes from Wicked – fans will undoubtedly lap up the chance to see her perform Defying Gravity once more – while as the show builds to its climax the men are joined by an impressive choir, adding depth to their lead vocals.
Poor Mead appeared to be battling illness for the press performance, struggling on occasions to match the impact of Carter’s earth-shattering falsetto, Willis’ lightness of touch and Thaxton’s richness. Their different tones complement perfectly, pulling your ears to and fro, allowing, on occasion, fabulous harmonies.
All in all, the evening is a little like the selection box of fireworks you buy to use at home. For the most part you know what you are going to get, safe, amusing, enjoyable entertainment with a couple of explosive surprises thrown in.