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When I was given the opportunity to review The West End Men at the G Live venue in Guildford, I jumped at the chance. Not because I was a particular fan of the performers involved, but since the likes of Lee Mead and Kerry Ellis attract such a cult following, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 

The West End Men features the vocal stylings of Lee Mead, Matt Rawle and Stephen Rahmen-Hughes. The premise is that these leading men of the West End perform an array of songs that are all from the world of musical theatre, inviting Kerry Ellis on stage intermittently to join them.

They opened with ‘Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, an interesting choice; it certainly demonstrated their vocal ranges with some beautiful harmonies, but I would have liked something punchier to kick things off. However, this show is not about big, showy numbers, which Lee Mead displayed perfectly during his scaled back ‘Music of the Night’ rendition. When I heard the opening bars, I was concerned that my favourite musical theatre song was about to be murdered but luckily there was no attempt to try and sing it a la John Owen Jones, and Mead managed to make it his own. It’s fair to point out that I have only ever seen Mead in Wicked and there I felt his portrayal of Fiyero was uncharismatic and left me quite cold. In concert though, he seems more at ease and I could focus much more on his rich, powerful voice.

Likewise, I’ve never previously been bowled over by Kerry Ellis’ vocals, but she performed ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ and ‘Only the Good Die Young’ with such power and emotion that I began to understand why people go crazy. Her higher range in these songs is beautifully pure, but it’s when she performs her ‘rock’ version of ‘Defying Gravity’ that I’m not so convinced. One wonders, however, if that song ever really works when performed out of context.

The great thing about concerts like this is that it gives theatre fans a chance to hear numbers from musicals that they’ve never had the chance to see. Matt Rawle performed the title track from Martin Guerre with great aplomb; a show that I’ve never viewed and absolutely loved hearing an excerpt from. Les Miserable and Phantom related songs were prevalent throughout, with a fantastic ‘One Day More’ closing the second act, enlisting the entire company, including the very talented students from the Guildford Performance Preparation Academy.  A shout out must be made to Cathy Read, a PPA student who sang the role of Cosette opposite Matt Rawle’s Marius and had a purity to her voice to rival any West End worthy Cosette I’ve witnessed. Nice to see that there’s such fantastic burgeoning talent out there that will keep our theatres thriving into the future.

There were a few odd choices that seemed haphazardly thrown into the set, such as ‘Better’ by Tiom Baxter, performed by Mead. He sang it well, but I felt it didn’t really fit and they would have been better off dropping that and replacing it with some of the songs that inexplicably appeared in the programme schedule but not in the show, such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Another thing I took issue with was the rearrangements of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, performed rather dramatically by Ellis, and Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’, by Rahmen-Hughes. With such classics as these, experimenting rarely works and I didn’t appreciate the rockier vocals on the former, or the up-tempo jazz version of the latter.

The highlight of the show for me was any point at which all three West End Men sang together in harmony. ‘Bring Him Home’ sounded stunning and their West Side Story medley was riveting to watch as they shimmied their way across the stage, even if it was brought to a swift end by a five minute long sax solo that felt like it lasted five hours. Incidentally, the five-piece orchestra were fantastic and didn’t put a note wrong.

Despite the odd criticism, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it exposed me to musical theatre songs I never thought I’d be able to hear live. The production was slick, the choreography was smooth and the vocals were often surprising.

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REVIEWED 18/07/12

By Caroline Cronin

G Live, Guildford, GU1.

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