Hey you, have you missed London’s West End or, if you live in the rest of the country, the occasional shows that tour from London’s West End? Well, you’re not alone. The last year’s been a necropolis for musical theatre. Covid was a serious business – one that didn’t indulge in camp, colour or flamboyance. Nothing had hated theatre this much since the black death – or Oliver Cromwell to use his proper name. Monday Night at the Apollo (Shaftesbury Avenue) is here to show you what you’ve been missing – a tonic designed to get you back in the mood and banish any thoughts you may have had about abandoning theatreland for Rocketman on Netflix.
Greg Barnett is your fawning host – sauntering on stage in a casual white tee and suit jacket, introducing a panoply of revived West End stage talent whose song choices double as subliminal messages to both returning audiences and those watching at home, vaccine card rubbing up against theatre membership in wallet, wondering if they dare join them.
Aimie Atkinson’s Don’t You Feel like Crying invites an answer of yes, with tears of joy of course. Cedric Neil’s double whammy of Just the Way You Are and Don’t You Worry About a Thing hammers home the idea that theatre’s just about perfect as it was and will be again – pricing and seating included, and it’s safe, so c’mon Mama, grab your mask and compression stockings, and get to the box office!
Cassidy Janson demands you “get here if you can”, while Julian Ovenden’s version of Tom Waits’ San Diego Serenade contains such cautionary reflections as “I never knew I needed you ’til I was caught up in a bind.” Hey, now I think about it…
Lucie Jones belting out Judy Garland’s The Man that Got Away, stays on message, aching at enforced separation. Lines like, “The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray” are more personal, as Lucie was in a production of Les Mis kyboshed by the dreaded bug.
Between the songs that beg the audience not to give up on them, rain on the performers’ parade by staying away, or asking what kind of fool could have taken you, i.e. them, for granted for so long, affirming “it”, presumably musical theatre, is wonderful – the stars sit and exchange anecdotes with Mr Barnett, indulging in just the kind of smiley, ultra-positive, self-congratulatory professionalism, the absence of which has been like a void at the heart of our national life during this wretched plague.
If you agree there aren’t quite enough stage musicals based on popular movies or the back catalogue of great artists, and you’ve missed the personalities that bring these colourful productions to life, Monday Night at the Apollo is a show well worth attending.
The talent on display is undeniable (and will be again thanks to changing line ups) – the atmosphere is friendly and fruity, and not only that, a ticket supports Acting for Others – an umbrella organisation made up of 14 theatrical charities, that keep the many actors, musicians and stagehands who’ve faced penury in lockdown fed and watered. Worse, they faced the absence of you and I. And all joking aside, that couldn’t have been easy.