Indeed, ‘The Show Must Go On’!
The Show Must Go On An Evening of Musical Theatre at Newcastle's Tyne Theatre & Opera House Each Sunday from 11th Oct - 29th Nov 2020 Tickets available from our affiliate Eventim UK: https://tidd.ly/3iMzmHn #Ad
Naima Jackson reviews the weekly show "The Show Must Go On" taking place each Sunday in the Bistro Bar of Newcastle's Tyne Theatre and Opera House.
Last Sunday, on what proved to be another inclement day at the beautiful coastline of North Tyneside, I was walking my gorgeous dog George, music merrily blasting in my ears through my headphones, enjoying my increasingly eclectic and eccentric iPhone collection of music set to the setting of surprise and delight that is ‘shuffle’. After the usual shift from The Prodigy to Billie Holiday to Rimsky-Korsakov via Nick Drake and just a smattering of Manu Chau, two songs came on that gave me pause for thought: ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and ‘Freedom’ by George Michael.
You see, this summer, I had been hoping to take my daughters Rose and Poppy to London for the first time, and ‘take in a show’, as it is de rigour on such occasions, and I had been supposed to play as many gigs as possible in my own band ‘Spelks’. But of course, Covid happened, and so the latter did not; and just as my heart panged for the missed opportunity of seeing a West End production with the girls, and I listened to George (the singer, not the dog) singing his way to freedom, the line “I think it’s time I stopped the show”, had a new poignancy attached, and the longing I felt to see for a live musical performance stopped me in my tracks.
But life can also offer us golden moments of synchronicity, even in these dark times, and when I checked my Facebook newsfeed that afternoon, I noticed that my good friend and colleague John Hopkinson had posted that he was to perform with others in ‘The Show Must Go On’ at The Tyne Theatre Bar that very evening. Ten minutes later, having tracked down the offspring to their various favoured posterns (the eight-year-old outside on her scooter with the kids from our street, the 12-year-old indoors playing some new-fangled online computer game with her friends from school), I had the thumbs up from the youngest, Poppy, to book us a table for two to see the show live at the Tyne Theatre Bar that evening (unfortunately, Rose is of an age where if at least one of her friends won’t be there, she’d rather not be anywhere – not very easy to manage right now as you can imagine, but there will be a next time in the future when we can do just that).
Now, as anyone who has spent even the briefest of moments in my youngest daughter will attest to, she has a flair for the dramatic herself: she is forthright and fearless to the extent that she is perennially entertaining and often hilarious, and she loves an excuse to dress up and be out where the grown-ups are. So, one fancy polka-dot frock and demands that I maintain a constant flow of ket (Geordie for sweets) and hot chocolate to see her through, we set off for what proved to be a wonderful evening of live entertainment that delighted us and everyone else fortunate enough to be there – both in the theatre and watching the live-stream broadcast from home.
The evening ran perfectly: on arrival we donned our face masks, were directed to sanitise our hands and had our temperatures scanned (Pops loved the drama of that moment) and were directed to the final table for two in the house – on the front row, right next to the stage area, so we had a fantastically unobstructed view of the evening’s entertainment. After being served at the table with a bottle of beer (for me), a hot chocolate, a mix-up bag of sweets and a massive bag of Chocolate Buttons for Poppy (she gave me five, then licked the rest to make sure I didn’t take any more), the show began at 7pm prompt, introduced with enthusiasm and panache by Liam Olsen, dressed in a very dapper three-piece suit (a personal favourite of mine to wear on formal occasions also); he opened with ‘This is the Moment’ from ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ by Anthony Warlow, and the power of his delivery, the timbre of his voice and the real showmanship inherent therein, instantly brought a smile to our faces, and there we were, for the first time in many, many months, finally at a live performance that already promised great things. After a hearty welcome to all present, physically and virtually, and a smooth slip out of his jacket later, he sang ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to an audience whose faces absolutely lit up with delight, support and gratitude to be together once more in a place we all love.
Next to entertain us was Steph Peacock – in a fabulous dotted frock that wasn’t dissimilar to Poppy’s own (Poppy was suitably impressed, and she adored her beautiful long red hair and curls too), accompanied by John Hopkinson on piano. They proved to be a winning combination, and the extra dynamic of live musical accompaniment by such a talented musician as John is, really brought even more pizzazz to Steph’s performance of ‘Journey to the Past’ from ‘Anastasia’ by Stephen Flaherty and ‘No Good Deed’ from the musical ‘Wicked’ by Stephen Schwartz (which would have been on our shortlist of possible musicals to see in the Big Smoke this summer) made suitably atmospheric by the production teams’ switch to the eerie green lighting that is the trademark of Oz and all that is associated with it. The audience, Poppy and I all loved it.
Following Steph’s performance, warmly applauded by all present, John Hopkinson remained on stage, and surprised and delighted us with a real gear-shift into two of his original tracks: ‘What I Want’ - a heart-wrenching exploration of the all-too-human dichotomy between what we want in life, and what life and society tells us we need. It was such an apt choice for John to premier this song at a time when we are all trying to cope with cravings for society and the performance arts, in a regime of escalating lock-downs that keep us from many of the people and things we love and care for. The poignancy of the theme flowed perfectly into his next track, ‘Once More’, written, as he told us, about these very circumstances that we are in. The melody and lyrics resonated with a reassuring reminder that we will be together once more when these Covid times are behind us, in ever more enjoyable and sociable ways than we could be that evening at the Theatre Bar. Both songs were performed with the warmth and professionalism that is the mark of the man, and were welcomed with hearty applause (and a couple of cheeky wolf-whistles from stage-left); before John finished his solo performance with ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ from ‘Mack and Mabel’ by Jerry Herman – a personal favourite of mine for all it’s promise of practicality, whilst slipping helplessly into romance in the spaces between the lyrics and the lilt of the melody, and finally, he promised us that he would “camp it up a little” with the wonderful ‘Cabaret’ by Kander and Ebb and immortalised by the legendary Liza Minelli – a wonderful way to finish the set with an uplifting note on which to welcome the next performer, Markus Sayers Franklin.
Markus is a real larger-than life performer, who absolutely transported us with his rendition of ‘Not My Father’s Son’ from ‘Kinky Boots’ by Billy Porter and Stark Sands. The emotion with which he performed that track segued perfectly into his next song-choice, ‘Purpose’ from ‘Avenue Q’ by Jeff Whitty, which he should have been performing in this summer, accompanied by one of the fabulous muppet character-props that were a real winner with Poppy – as was his promise that she song wasn’t too rude for her young ears (she was the youngest member of the audience, and she loved getting a mention). Again, Markus’ talent was palpable and transformative, are those of us fortunate enough to be in the live audience (and at home I am sure) were with him heart and soul in every note and word.
Poppy loved Markus’ set, but she was also delighted to see that the next performer was another young female for her to aspire to and take wardrobe tips from: Bridget Marsh, accompanied by the inexhaustible John Hopkinson on piano once more. Her choice of ‘Sunset’ from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ was an instant hit with us all (and with my daughter in particular, we have been watching the film of the musical at home this week off and on most days – Poppy would make a perfect Audrey one day, so she tells me, and I don’t doubt that for a second). Her second and final song was ‘Wizard and I’, again from ‘Wicked’, delivered with the power and perfect dark melancholy that is called for by the story, and with an equally epic performance by John on the keys (seemingly all of them at once at moments and all in precisely the right order of course), We were all suitably impressed with this winning combination of tracks and professionalism, and so we were all set for the return of two of the earlier acts, Markus, followed by Liam to close the show with the same polish and aplomb that he had opened it.
Markus’ second set consisted of ‘Sunset’ from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ again by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, another firm favourite of mine and the audience also. Once again, Markus hit the perfect note of longing and depth in his performance, and we were with him to the last breath in his moving rendition of the ache to perform and be a star in the ruthless world of Hollywood - a near-impossible dream echoed painfully by the currently difficulty for artists to perform and survive in these Covid-days. His final track, ‘Build a Wall’ from ‘Shrek’ – in which Markus had played the lead in recent, full-stage-performance-friendly times – was a perfect note on which to end his final set, that left us all contemplating the walls that have been built up between the audience and performers given current lock-down guidelines that look unlikely to change for the better any time soon.
By the time Liam Olsen retuned to the stage for the final time, we were all suitably buoyed-up and the audience felt like a real part of the show, so it was with the familiarity of old friends that we laughed along with his commentary on the necessary adjustments of the microphone from it’s tall-setting from Markus to one that suited his own stature. His final tracks, ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from ‘Love Never Dies’ by Webber and Ramin Karimloo and ‘Bring Him Home’ from ‘Les Misérables’, again hit the perfect note for the event, and indeed, we all felt back at home in the theatre once more.
All in all, the show was an absolute delight, 10/10 for Jonathan Mellor and all the team The Tyne Theatre putting this on in spite of the complications inherent in the task, for the performers, their performances, and the technical and hospitality crew that made such a perfect night for us all. Fortunately, for us all, if you didn’t make this show, this was by no means a one-off, and there will be several more live performances that will be simultaneously broadcast-live to come. So, do yourself, the arts and the love of community a favour, and come along to ‘Start the Show’ yourselves.
Review by Naima Jackson