Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Save your Waterloo Ding Dong Phoenix for Me

Our little gang had another faboo night out on Sunday - the return of the extravaganza that is West End Eurovision!

Basically, the premise of the event - a major fundraiser for the charity Make A Difference Trust (aka TheatreMAD), which supports HIV and AIDS projects that build awareness and provide care, support and education in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa - is that the casts of renowned West End musicals all perform song'n'dance numbers from former entries in the Eurovision Song Contest, before a panel of judges, with votes from panels from each competing show and an audience vote at the end to decide the winner. A bit like the real thing, but with a West End twist.

And just like the real thing, the audience was about 99% composed of gay men! Understandably so, as just about every second of it - from our MC, veteran Music Hall player Richard Gauntlett, to the judges: former Hot Gossip chorographer and stalwart of Strictly Come Dancing Arlene Phillips, former Eastenders actor and West End star John Partridge, and, campest of the lot, comedian, actor, and writer Tom Allen; the performances themselves, and the plethora of surprise guests (in person and in the "ident" videos) - was as camp as knickers, dear...

Here, for your delectation, is a summary of the contest highlights, courtesy of Scott Matthewman, in his excellent review on The Reviews Hub [how I despise that word!] website:
...While the cast of Hamilton start strongly, with a rendition of 2014 Denmark entry Cliché Love Song that is mashed up with their show’s own The Schuyler Sisters, it is pleasant enough but no more. One almost wonders whether, if this is all West End Eurovision has to offer, its revival was worth it...

...A couple of shows’ choices, both of song and creative performance, veers towards the traditional Eurovision style of presentation. In particular, Kinky Boots’ choice of Warrior, Georgia’s 2015 entry, fits in with the musical’s message of acceptance and defiance, while Mamma Mia! seems to step away from its everyday life of Abba-infused camp with a rendition of Undo (Sweden, 2014) that is rather too serious.

At the other end of the scale, the cast of Young Frankenstein perform a rendition of Sweden’s 1999 entry Take Me To Your Heaven with a tongue-in-cheek rendition that seeks to cast show’s matriarch Lesley Joseph in the role of God, while Aladdin’s performance of the Danish 2007 entry Drama Queen relies on muscular men in leather harnesses and an oversized drag queen – performance staples that go down well amongst an audience which is predominantly composed of gay men.

The best performances tend to be those that take a well-known Eurovision number and take it in a new direction. 42nd Street chose UK winner Boom-Bang-a-Bang for this treatment – initially performing it reverentially in a 1969-style performance, until an interruption from Lulu (the song’s original singer, and who has recently joined the 42nd Street cast) causes the cast to break out into a samba-infused version.

But this is eclipsed by the cast of Dreamgirls, who similarly start with a “straight” version of Making Your Mind Up, before junking it in favour of a hyped-up, soulful rendition that is both 100% Dreamgirls and also a thrilling and faithful interpretation of the original.

Good as it may be, though, it is the cast of The Phantom of the Opera that dominates the proceedings...

...Choosing Rise Like a Phoenix, Conchita Wurst’s 2014 winner for Austria, [it] initially looks like it is going to be a straightforward performance, the combination of beautiful golden dress and full facial beard channelling Wurst’s signature look. But as the backing performers emerge, it is clear the Phantom team are running with the idea. Women from other West End shows, including Donna from Mamma Mia! and Elphaba from Wicked, are recreated with their own beards, before being joined by other hirsute theatrical characters – Harry Potter’s Dumbledore, The Greatest Showman’s Bearded Lady, even Cousin It from The Addams Family.

It’s a performance which is simultaneously bonkers, bold and brilliantly executed. It comes as no surprise, then, when in the scoring part of the evening Phantom takes an early lead and only pulls further ahead with each round of scores. It is an appropriate win, as guest Graham Norton points out as he hands over the trophy: in recent weeks, Conchita Wurst has been forced to discuss her HIV status in public after facing blackmail threats from a former boyfriend, and her refusal to treat her diagnosis as a source of shame is the sort of message that TheatreMAD works hard to promote.

The show concludes with two genuine Eurovision performances. As with previous West End Eurovision shows, a former entrant is invited to perform. Last year’s entrant, Lucie Jones, is an appropriate choice for the event’s revival, as she is enjoying a career in musical theatre herself, currently on tour with Legally Blonde. And kicking off what is hopefully a new tradition for subsequent charity events, the UK’s current entry SuRie performs her entry, Storm.

But great as these performances are, it is the companies of the West End shows who deserve the greatest attention. With each performance predominantly undertaken by the junior members of each show’s ensemble, the evening is both a celebration of the depth of talent within the West End and a valuable fundraiser for HIV charities.

Long may it continue.
Amen to that!

There is (unfortunately) no footage of any of the actual performances from the night itself, but here is the "official ident" from Phantom crew, done in the style of [the improbably popular Channel 4 telly show about - erm - people watching telly] Gogglebox:

And here, again, is the UK's entry for the real, official Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon 2018:

She was great - and let's hope she does well! Lucie Jones was great (with her "big gay hands in the air poppers o’clock remix of 'Never Give Up On You' to quote Eurovision blogger Monty on the OnEurope site). Graham Norton was great. Lulu was great. Phantom was great. In fact, everything about this was an absolute hoot - roll on next year (and roll on our Eurovision party in just a few weeks' time)!



  1. It was an unexpectedly fabulous evening! I think we should add this to the season calendar - talk about opening with a bang!! Even better, it’s the only time I’ve ever been to a West End theatre and not had to queue for the ladies :-). Hils xxx

    1. ...whereas the men were all moaning, bitching, and scratching each-others' eyes out! Jx

      PS Yes! I think an annual visit to this may be in order...

  2. What a shame I missed it. Hey ho.


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