Venue: The Theatre Cafe, London
The Theatre Channel launches its second episode this weekend in what is now an established format filmed in and around the Theatre Café on St Martin’s Lane where this latest edition was screened with some of its creators and musical theatre stars in attendance. Halloween-inspired Episode 2 includes an anthology of spooky numbers designed to be a “time capsule for this very difficult moment”, drawing on what producer Adam Blanshay likes to call “the musical theatre jukebox.”
Episode One challenged its singers to perform a song they had never tried before while allowing choreographer Bill Deamer and conductor-composer Michael England to see what they could do in the space. For the Halloween episode something far more thematic has emerged, replacing the standalone music video style with staged extracts from longer pieces, drawing a much stronger visual connection between the performances.
All remarkably staged in the café and local alleyways, the audience is transported to forests and graveyards, smoke-filled crypts and dark passageways as the barely recognisable venue is dressed to suit the tone of the songs and the gothic theme of this edition. Sidestepping the more obvious choices proves a boon for Episode Two with a varied song selection that includes a few recognisable hits but also extracts of good songs from rarely seen productions and box-office failures
Finding the songs is key to sustaining a series like The Theatre Channel and the unusual choices from Beetlejuice, Carrie and Jekyll and Hyde are refreshing, with the most remarkable performances in this Episode coming from two failed shows. Christopher Hampton and Don Black’s derided 2001 musical Dracula proves fruitful for Bradley Jaden and Sophie Issacs who perform an intense version of the duet Life After Life. Jaden’s powerful and charismatic vocal is glorious, almost overpowering Isaacs as perhaps Dracula should, while some fancy camerawork allows him to encircle her while remaining socially distant.
It is also a meaningful return to Carrie for Linzi Hateley who assumed the leading role aged 17 in Stratford before a disastrous Broadway transfer that still troubles her. Asked to play the role of Carrie’s mother Margaret, Hateley delivers an emotional and faultless rendition of When There is No One, which, England explained, had an unusual recording journey. Usually preparing the backing track in advance but with no suitable version available for this forgotten musical, Hateley performed to a keyboard and England added the orchestration in post-production.
Four of the performers attended the episode launch including Aimie Atkinson on hiatus from Pretty Woman performing a rock-inspired Dead Mom from Beetlejuice and who admitted she was thrilled to be working again and who, like Isaacs, avoided reviewing the takes on screen. Meanwhile, Jordan Shaw talked of the challenge of lip syncing to his pre-recorded vocal and delivering sharp choreography in a limited space with one day’s preparation as he performed Transylvania Mania from Young Frankenstein with series regulars the Café Four represented by Alex Woodward.
The Halloween episode is completed by a superb version of The Confrontation from Jekyll and Hyde sung by Josh Piterman, an emphatic Ria Jones delivering Last Midnight from Into the Woods and Trevor Dion Nicholas leading The Time Warp with pop-up guest stars. This is a series that is increasing in confidence with every episode and with a rock-focused edition due to be launched in November, followed by a Christmas special, the Theatre Channel is quickly establishing itself as another must-see musical theatre innovation.
Episode Two: Halloween of the Theatre Channel is £12 and available to purchase from www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel