The audience couldn’t get enough at Main Men of Musicals, a concert at Cadogan Hall last night featuring West End stars Luke Bayer, Ben Forster, Trevor Dion Nicholas, Liam Tamne, and some very talented young choral performers.
The crowd applauded and whistled as the men belted hits from the musical songbook (I noticed a conspicuous avoidance of the word ‘Broadway’) in front of an orchestra. It was a reminder of just how far a good performer can go on his own, without a set, costumes, or even script: one minute we’re in La Mancha; the next, a British classroom; and then Paris in the Restoration.
With voices like theirs, the main men could have filled the set list with excerpts from the phone book or Theresa May’s speeches and still sounded fantastic. As it happened, some of the song choices weren’t that far off: is anyone actually a fan of Starlight Express? Did no one wonder why The Pirate Queen flopped?
But that was also a great part of the charm of the evening. While I would have stacked the set list very differently (more Sondheim, less Lloyd Webber), the songs were obviously chosen by the performers themselves, each number reflecting the main man’s musical, dramatic and comedic sensibilities.
Trevor Dion Nicholas, who is best known as the Genie in Disney’s family-friendly Aladdin, went straight for songs from Chicago and Avenue Q. Luke Bayer swung sentimental, Liam Tamme had fun with character numbers, and Ben Forster belted the classics. When all four got together to sing “Luck be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls, they each approached the same character, the same voice, a little differently.
It was a reminder of just how much a performer brings to their own character. I am guilty – and I’m sure I’m not alone – of declaring one cast recording ‘canon’ and rejecting any other interpretation of the score. But music is a living thing, and as we’ve seen recently with a gender-swapped Company and the announced changes to Les Miserables, even the classics are new.
That’s one of the reasons there’s such endless joy in listening to talented young performers like the Main Men of Musicals – every time they approach the microphone, you know you’re about to hear something new.
London Theatre Reviews
Main Men of Musicals saw the amazing singers and actors Luke Bayer, Ben Forster, Trevor Dion Nicholas and Liam Tamne taking the stage of Cadogan Hall to sing some of the most iconic songs of musical theatre repertoire from its early days to our times. “Luck be a lady tonight” was the opening theme of the overture played by the very talented band accompanying these artists, and considering how well things went, luck was a real lady tonight, together with an insane amount of talent. Lucy Drever, the main and only woman of the evening, was the presenter, a funny and very likeable one, who took us on a great musical journey from Golden Era classic songs like “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” to contemporary ones such as “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen. There were plenty of guests, including the wonderful choirs of Michael Xavier Masterclass and Goldmans Stage School (“Seize the day” from Newsies), the very talented Rhys Bailey, singing a very touching and impressive “Where is the love?” from “Oliver”, the Spirit Young Performers Company, busting some incredible vocals, and moves!, with a wonderful Jersey Boys Medley and finally Luke Redmore, proving to be more than ready to be a “main man” too after singing a perfect version of “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
But let’s talk about the stars of the night. All four singers proved worthy of the title of the show. Their musical and interpretative talents shone throughout the evening, growing in emotional and technical intensity and difficulty as the night went on. Ben Forster placed first when it comes to intensity, stealing a few standing ovations after masterfully performing some iconic songs from his repertoire, such as ’Music of the Night’ from Phantom of The Opera and Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar. Watching him sing and perform there was a sense of complete involvement in the material, as if he was giving us his all, without sparing us anything, using his whole body, voice and spirit to transport us to these characters and situations. The audience felt it and reciprocated the intensity and passion he seemed to be sharing with us. Luke Bayer sang beautifully from start to end, and just as he was running the risk of coming across as too well behaved, he brought us to the edge of our sits with ‘And you don’t even know it’ from Jamie. His energy and personality came through and suddenly he had us in the palm of his hand. Liam Tamne had a more tender and warmer quality to his singing and performance, and suddenly surprised us with a masterful, joyful version of “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. If this guy sounds good, he looks even better on heels. Trevor Dion Nicholas was pure class and enveloping us in a warm embrace of sound with his rich and impressively beautiful voice. His performance flawlessly ranged from the dramatic to the comedic, with a hilarious version of “If You Were Gay” from Avenue Q that saw him mingling in the stalls and singling out straight members of the audience (they were quite hard to find, well done Trevor for outing a few).
There was an atmosphere of playfulness and solidarity between the four main men throughout the concert, and seeing so many young guests perform (the youngest soloist, Rhys Bailey, being 15) really made the event a joyful and a truly uplifting one. It felt like a celebration of talent in all its forms and ages, and of the art form of musical theatre, so rich in all its musical and theatrical styles, and so powerful in bringing people together through the love of story and music.
Following two successful concerts celebrating the role of women in musical theatre, Lambert Jackson Productions returned to London’s Cadogan Hall for a third outing, but this time celebrating the Main Men of Musicals, highlighting some of the best musical theatre numbers sung by men across several decades of musical theatre history, accompanied by a wonderful orchestra under the musical direction of Adam Hoskins.
As with their previous concerts, four celebrated performers took to the stage. The evening opened with the appropriately titled ‘Hello’ from The Book of Mormon allowing all four men to share the stage for this introductory offering, but across the night a varied programme saw them perform solos and duets from musicals across all different eras.
Lucy Drever hosted the evening, and in a slight change from previous concerts spent more time explaining where some of the less well-known songs had come from. One such number which required further explanation was ‘Waving Through a Window’ from Dear Evan Hansen. The fact that this Broadway hit which opens in London in November is still so unknown to the British public (including the Britain’s Got Talent judges, apparently) is a travesty, but thankfully Lambert Jackson had the foresight to ensure its inclusion. The opening bars of this particular song always give me goosebumps; having seen the show twice on Broadway, but my shivers escalated thanks to Luke Bayer’s outstanding rendition which easily rivalled that of role originator, Ben Platt.
Man of La Mancha, currently playing on the West End, was represented with the title track sung by Ben Forster. It made me wonder why this soaring and punchy song isn’t the one most talked about from this particular show, and concluded that it was the performer rather than song that made it sound so appealing in this instance.
Ben Forster also performed ‘Music of the Night’ from Phantom of the Opera, it was the highlight of the evening, that is until he gave us ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar which earned him a well-deserved standing ovation all round.
Liam Tamne closed the first act with a glorious performance of ‘Sweet Transvestite’ from The Rocky Horror Show, having already demonstrated some fancy footwork in earlier numbers. Trevor Dion Nicholas wowed the audience with those powerful vocals, particularly in ‘Make Them Hear You’ from Ragtime. Nicholas also used a touch of American charm on his British audience, no more so than when it came to a little audience participation for ‘If You Were Gay’ from Avenue Q.
Two competition winners were invited to take to the stage, fifteen-year-old Rhys Bailey dazzled the audience with ‘Where is Love’ from Oliver which couldn’t possibly have left a dry eye in the house. The roof of the house was most certainly raised when Luke Redmore performed ‘Out There’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, prompting Lucy Drever to comment he’ll be worth keeping an eye on, I would have to agree.
Again, Lambert Jackson brought young performers right in to the heart of Main Men of Musicals. Incorporating choirs from Michael Xavier Masterclass and Goldmans Stage School, not only did they do a wonderful job of supporting the four ‘Main Men’ they became the 25 other Main Men of Musicals when performing their solo number ‘Seize The day’ from Newsies.
Four young men from Spirit Young Performers Company gave us a Jersey Boys Medley, which was undeniably superb. These hugely talented performers are part of a part-time performing arts programme, and given the quality of their performance it’s not difficult to see why Spirit is so highly regarded.
Once again, Lambert Jackson has given us a truly wonderful celebration of musical theatre, here proving that the Main Men of Musicals provide a wide and varied canon of work. Bringing these well-known performers together allows a light to be shone on forgotten or unknown songs, and on the performers of the future who were given the opportunity to stand on stage alongside their musical theatre heroes. With these concerts, Lambert Jackson are proving themselves to be true champions of musical theatre, and of the performers who bring these wonderful songs to life.
London Theatre 1
There are concerts where the up and coming get showcased, and one applauds politely, because, you know, it takes some guts to get up there and do your thing in front of a paying audience. In the end, they did their best and they had a go. But the winners of a competition held by the producers of Main Men of Musicals were quite brilliant, and there is no need to be kind or diplomatic – they were both nothing short of splendid. It could well be that Rhys Bailey and Luke Redmore could be headlining musical theatre concerts themselves in the future. The competition prize was the opportunity to perform a song at Cadogan Hall for this event, and entry was by way of a one-minute video recording of a musical theatre song of the entrant’s choice, submitted to the producers by a certain deadline. The producers were themselves the judging panel and, it being their show, their decision was final.
Bailey, 16 years of age according to his Spotlight profile (from my vantage point he looked more like someone in Year 9 than Year 11), did a pitch-perfect rendering of ‘Where Is Love?’ from Oliver!, with the kind of stage presence that will stand him in good stead should he wish to continue to pursue his dream of treading the boards. Redmore, a final year musical theatre student at the Epsom-based Laine Theatre Arts, gave an engaging performance of ‘Out There’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
These weren’t the only singers aside from the four ‘main men’ (in no particular order, Ben Forster, Luke Bayer, Trevor Dion Nicholas and Liam Tamne). The Spirit Young Performers Company have previously made appearances on national television and at the annual West End Live event, and their selection of tunes from Jersey Boys demonstrated their vocal harmony abilities superbly. The Goldman’s Stage School, largely based in Brighton with some classes held in Eastbourne, took the lead for ‘Seize The Day’ from Newsies The Musical, which has never been professionally produced in the UK (I understand it has had some student productions, most notably one at ArtsEd in west London), and a number of other showtunes were accompanied by MX Masterclass, a musical theatre training academy for 10 to 25-year-olds that holds classes on Shaftesbury Avenue on Sundays.
A good musical theatre concert will have a mixture of the familiar and the obscure (for want of a better word), as well as a wide range of different showtunes – in short, something for (almost) everyone. Main Men of Musicals was a roaring success on those criteria. Forster, reprising the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, got a deserved standing ovation for ‘Music of the Night’, and another one after ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, and in both cases, as well as many others, some credit is due to the dozen or so musicians under the baton of Adam Hoskins. Bayer reprised the title role in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (for which he was the alternate) for an enthusiastic ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’.
Trevor Dion Nicholas veered from playful jester in ‘If You Were Gay’ from Avenue Q to meaningfully poignant in ‘Make Them Hear You’ from Ragtime, the latter having one of the most magnificent musical theatre scores I have come across to date. But I haven’t seen Paint Your Wagon, a musical which hasn’t had a West End production since 1953, and with audiences still awaiting (at the time of writing) the opening of the London production of Dear Evan Hansen, ‘Waving Through A Window’ is a number I have yet to hear in its proper context (suffice to say that “tap, tap, tapping” is what a considerable number of people do, at least on their phones).
A majestic medley comprised of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s best-known works, Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, rounded off an evening that was, overall, joyous and uplifting. Full marks for a most enjoyable and entertaining evening. I’d see it all over again if it were possible.