Monday Night at the Apollo is a concert series featuring many of the West End’s best-known performers. In this penultimate concert, produced by Wild Mountain Productions, musical directors Richard Beadle and George Dyer make sure that there is entertainment for everyone, from musical theatre to pop, jazz, country, reggae, and folk. Although performers are not offered the room to share as many cherished memories or experiences from their careers as billed, this is a joyful, uplifting evening rightfully belonging to magnificently talented musicians in support of the theatre industry.
The performers’ genuine joy at playing again for a live audience is unmistakable. Each make the stage their own, choosing well known numbers that are personal to them, with some singing their chosen repertoire for the first time, and others sharing new compositions. Solo performances include Sandra Marvin opening the evening with her magnificent showstopping soulful voice. Shan Ako on guitar brings her gospel talent to Bob Marley’s One Love. This number creates an intimate setting – much like a gig –as Ako effortlessly chats with the audience, inviting them to sing along, prompting one audience member to jump up from his seat and “send out his love”!
Sophie Evans shares her delightful cheeky wit when chatting with the audience, and when performing musical theatre numbers adds a rich Memphis country vibe. Arthur Darvill shows off his outstanding talent as composer and musician (and his brilliant fashion style, rocking a mod look of ankle trousers and patent Chelsea boots). As he takes to the piano, he brings the air of a late-night smoke-filled jazz bar. Darvill’s rendition of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy is entirely his own, with a gravelly voice the perfect companion to his physical performance. He plays instruments with his entire body, at one point standing with such energy he could have jumped on top of the piano without missing a bar. There must surely be a future duo-gig-in-waiting for Darville and Jamie Muscato, the latter poignantly performing Lifeboat from the musical Heathers, and a perfectly pitched Rocket Man. He simply strolls centre stage, hands in pocket, and allows his crystal-clear voice to penetrate. There are tears from at least one member of this audience.
The stage is pre-set with a four-piece band (Ryan Webber on guitar, Jo Nichols on bass, Joe Evans on Drums and George Dyer MD on keys), which brilliantly supports the singers. When Ako, Darvill, Evans, Marvin and Muscato enter together and sit down with host Greg Barnett, the format has an electrifying air of Jools Holland-meets-Graham Norton. Barnett as host keeps the music and song portion of the evening moving quickly but loses some of the joy of That Red Sofa. Where guests should chat, laugh, and tease each other, instead, Barnett is awkward in his restrained format of asking neutral or leading questions before each song, the answers to which numerous fans in the audience no doubt already know. “Great Segway!” Arthur Darvill lightly joshes.
A shame because there are missed opportunities such as when Muscato tries to share his reason for choosing the Lifeboat song, or refusing to follow up to the rightful reminder that theatre is not London-centric. Monday Night at the Apollo is part of Nimax’s ‘Rising Stars Festival’, celebrating young producers making their West End debuts. This is a terrific incentive, although there are few surprises. What could happen if this platform instead pushes conventions?
Reviewed on 14 June, 2021