Thanks to a combination of reality TV, 15 minutes (or three million albums) of pop fame and social media, the trappings of fame (or at least some kind of following) are available to a wider range of performers than ever before. The West End Men is a shameless attempt to capitalise on it, offering a polished if unadventurous formula to showcase the talents of a handful of them who are not currently employed in actual shows. It’s also a useful way of getting the attractions of the West End out to parts of regional Britain that might be starved of larger touring shows, but bringing the West End Men to the West End itself is like bringing coals to Newcastle. We’ve got plenty of them here already; and you can still even hear some of the songs sung here, like those from Wicked, Les Miserables and We Will Rock You, in their authentic settings in the real shows.
Lee Mead and Kerry Ellis in The West End Men at the Vaudeville Theatre, London Photo: Poppy Carter
So this formulaic West End boy band show is caught in the glare of someone else’s spotlight and immediately rendered into a slightly pointless evening of show tunes and star turns. There’s hardly a single surprise in it, apart from a bizarre second act musical mash up medley of Edelweiss, Ol’ Man River, Send in the Clowns and On the Street Where You Live, that tests the harmonic strengths of singing them all simultaneously, and fails.
The stakes are raised somewhat by a choir brought out to perform a stirring a cappella Anthem (from Chess), then joining the principals on Bring Him Home, One More Day (both from Les Miserables) and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but elsewhere there are some mistakes, not least a first half that is structurally top-heavy with no less than six Lloyd Webber songs. There’s more to the West End than ALW, though in this section Glenn Carter’s revisiting of Gethsemane, a song he performed in the West End’s last revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, is powerful and passionate.
Lee Mead, inevitably, revisits Close Every Door from Joseph, a show that opened a few doors to him after he won the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do to play the title role at the Adelphi next door, and David Thaxton gives vocal heft to ‘Til I Hear You Sing from Love Never Dies - a stand-out performance from the night. Matt Willis is, not surprisingly, most at home in his pop contributions, including revisiting Year 3000 from his years as one-third of the pop troupe Busted.
Director/choreographer Mitch Sebastian previously hit upon a winning formula with his long-running Rat Pack celebration shows in the West End and on tour, but the difference there is that those theatrical events summonsed the long-gone spirits of Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin who are no longer able to appear themselves. This time we’re dealing with flesh-and-blood leading men, and there’s something over-generic in the way they’ve been assembled and presented here that fails to let enough of their individuality shine.
And that’s amplified by the fact that the boys end up having the show stolen from under their noses by guest leading lady Kerry Ellis, who reveals the biggest voice and personality onstage in just three songs. There’s no hiding authentic star power.