WEST END CALLING
Young stars of tomorrow make their West End debut
A guest blog review by Ruth Huntman
Dreams of a career in musical theatre – even for the uber talented – are hard to make a reality without an expensive drama school training, exposure granted to those who brave reality shows or the kind of luck akin to winning the lottery.
Add to this the current trend for ‘stunt casting’ giving top billing to anyone off the tellybox who can hold a note and put foot to floor – and it really does seem like ‘ the impossible dream’ (see what I did there?)
But thanks to West End Calling –a national competition for aspiring West End stars of musical theatre – there is a real chance to follow in the footlights of Michael Ball, Ruthie Henshall and Amber Riley. And call me controversial, but it allows people to do it without having to compromise their talent (or lack of) and construct a tedious back story for the ‘unreality show’ cameras.
Now in its third year, the competition is open to children and young adults under 21, with open auditions across the country whittling down hundreds of hopefuls to just 24 finalists – 12 juniors and 12 seniors.
It’s a well-worn cliché to say that everyone‘s a winner – but in this case it really is true. This year the finalists got to battle it out for ‘top billing’ and make their West End debut at The Other Palace the cool London Theatre fittingly owned by the ‘Lord of the Sings’ Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I was invited to attend the Seniors Final on Sunday May 27th in the hope of seeing some of the next generation of musical stars being born…and I wasn’t disappointed.
Before we met them, we saw clips of the audition process on a big screen with commentary from current West End stars including Tyrone Huntley (JesusChrist Superstar, Dreamgirls) and Alistair Brammer (Les Miserables).
To whet our appetite even more, host Oscar Conlan-Morrey – fresh from his own West End debut ToxicAvenger The Musical– literally exploded onto the stage with a flamboyant rendition of I Am Adolpho from The Drowsy Chaperone.
He revealed that the winner would receive a coveted week-long summer school at the prestigious Arts Educational School in London – an institution that’s bred many a West End star.
But for those waiting in the wings, the real prize was no doubt to just perform on The Other Palace stage and get a mini-mentoring session after each performance from the guest judges. With a huge list of musical theatre credits between them, the trio of Danielle Hope (winner of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow) Nathan Amzi (In the Heights, Aladdin) and Paul Wilkins (currently playing Marius in Les Miserables were the perfect choices for the role.
There’s not enough time and space to mention them all individually so I’ll just echo the judges sentiments that all of them were hugely talented and deserved their moment to shine in the final.
Impressively, they all showed some proper acting skills, an innate ability to ‘tell a story’ and impressive technique – despite their youth. Impressive too was the fact that they all shied away from the talent show staples of popular auditions songs from Les Miserables and Disney movies in favour of contemporary and little known-musicals including The Colour Purple, The Last Five Years and Waitress. Brave and clever because it allowed them to be judged on their merits and not the popularity and zeitgeist of the song.
To give just a flavour of the breadth of talent taking to the stage, I will, though single out just a few of the performers who left their mark.
You could have heard a pin drop after 18-year-old student Bryony Rose Brookman’s heartfelt performance of She Used To Be Mine from Waitress. And it was almost impossible to believe that Stephanie Wigglesworth had never performed on a stage in front of an audience before as she stridently gave us a gutsy I Can Do Better Than That from The Last Five Years.
Aiden Houston – who had the added pressure of being the lone male finalist – gave an accomplished rendition of What Is It about Her from The Wild Party which had Nathan Amzi exclaiming ‘I wouldn’t want to go up against you’.
In the end though, after a difficult deliberation from the judges (I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their shoes) it was a diminutive teenager, Megan Sadler from Derby, who took the ultimate prize with her effortless and totally engaging version of How Did We Come to This from The Wild Party
But watch this space …because there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that in the next few years the West End will be calling for each and every one of them.
A guest blog review by Ruth Huntman