The fourth and final Theatre Channel of 2020 (with more to come in the new year) is centred all-around Christmas, with festive numbers sung by West End stars.
Bringing some much-needed seasonal cheer, Hopeful Holidays stars Matt Croke, Zizi Strallen, Sophie Louise Dann, Tosh Wanogho Maud and Olivier Award-winner Cassidy Janson, as well as introducing the 2020 Graduates of ArtsEd London.
Dann gets the celebrations started, with "We Need A Little Christmas" from Mame. Joined by the Café Four, the opening number sees them decorating the Theatre Café in tinsel and lights. A simple but effective way to begin the narrative; it travels across the space at an upbeat pace that kicks off the celebrations and sets the right tone immediately.
Dann is the epitome of festive cheer, beaming throughout the number with infectious energy and dazzling glamour. It was particularly nice to see The Café Four becoming more prominent, as they always add extra sparkle to any number they appear in.
The 2020 Graduates of ArtsEd London take on the iconic "Seasons of Love" from Rent. Wrapped up in coats and scarves, the graduates deliver an impressive rendition that wouldn't be out of place on a West End stage and highlights the incredible talent we can expect to see in the future.
Strallen shows off her silly side with "Turkey Lurkey" from Promises Promises. No stranger to singing songs with bizarre lyrics (her previous role was Mary Poppins, after all), she demonstrates not only her ability to hit every high note with ease but also her comic talents, which are a delight to watch.
The '60s-inspired dance routine in particular, which seemed to get more intrinsic as it went on, was a clever choice by choreographer Bill Deamer, as it mirrored the light-hearted nature of the song. His creativity continues throughout the episode, as every dance number stands out individually with a mix of modern and old-school routines, while skilfully adding to the wider narrative and slotting in thematically, just like a regular stage production.
Maud and Croke ooze style and big-band energy in "Happy Holiday/Let's Start The New Year Right" from Holiday Inn. The pair are a charismatic double-act, and their individual performance styles complement each other and leave you wanting more.
But it's not all cheer and merriment, as the Theatre Channel proves it's not afraid to take risks. Manon Taris's breath-taking performance of "Ave Maria Païen" from Notre Dame de Paris, completely flipped the atmosphere: a brave move for a Christmas episode, but it pays off within the first few notes.
Sung entirely in French and dedicated to the show's original producer Charles Talar who passed away a few months ago, this is a stand-out moment because of Taris's delicate vocals and emotionally charged delivery.
Janson's rendition of "White Christmas" is one of the slower and stripped back numbers, which bring back the seasonal spirit in a traditional way. Her natural likeability and grace make this a natural cover choice for her, as she sparkles on screen from start to finish.
The finale sees Rachel John completely own "A Brand New Day" from The Wiz, taking you on a journey from the café and into the Duke of York's Theatre. It's odd seeing such a cheerful number in an empty venue, but it encapsulates the strength of theatre as it bounces back through online shows like The Theatre Channel. It's fantastic to see John back on stage where she belongs, as her optimism and passion builds a show-stopping number which leaves you feeling hopeful for the future.
This episode has more numbers in the traditional Theatre Café setting than using it as part of an extravagant set that we've seen previously in the series. While Gregor Donnelly's elaborate set design was still missed, stripping it back for a couple of the numbers creates an intimate and cosy feel, perfect for its winter theme.
Once again, the song choices for this episode are flawless. There is just the right amount of music from Christmas-based musicals (White Christmas, Holiday Inn) and non-seasonal shows that take place or sing about Christmas (Rent).
The wide variety we've come to expect from this series still remains, even though they've got a stricter theme to follow. In particular, this episode has many songs with positive messaging, which is exactly what audiences need right now.
This whole series must have been incredibly difficult to film given the ongoing restrictions, but you never notice the precautions taking place. The clever camera angles from videographer Ben Hewis, expert direction from Deamer and precise performances from those involved, means the social distancing is cleverly hidden, and you're completely engaged in the world they're creating.
Episode 4 of the Theatre Channel is a festive treat that's full of Christmas cheer, positive theatre spirit and performances that leave you feeling merry and bright.
All episodes of the Theatre Channel, including Episode 4, are now available to purchase and download for unlimited viewing online
Photo credit: Edward Johnson
Source : https://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/BWW-Review-THE-THEATRE-CHANNEL-EPISODE-4-20201223
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