The Theatre Channel: Episode 4: Hopeful Holidays

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer and Director: Bill Deamer

Separated from family and friends while largely confined to our homes, for many of us this is probably one of the darkest Christmases we can remember with very few live theatre shows able to go ahead around the country. Happily, the Theatre Channel is here to give us a sprinkling of festive cheer with its fourth episode of musical theatre anthologies. This one entitled Hopeful Holidays avoids the sugary glitz to offer a selection of unusual tunes that offer hope for the future.

This episode is largely about positivity, reflected in the song choices, which, in keeping with previous editions, are taken from an eclectic selection of musicals that may not immediately spring to mind when we think of musical theatre Christmas songs. And Director Bill Deamer has created a very stylish shoot with several of the pieces performed in black tie which draws the very different song choices together in a consistent show and, with no Christmas parties to be had, adds a classic touch of much needed glamour.

The Hopeful Holidays edition opens with Sophie-Louise Dann singing We Need a Little Christmas from Mame presented against the sequined backdrop of the Theatre Café stage and unfolding into a dance promenade performance around the venue. As choreographer, Deamer includes lots of jazz stylings as Dann and the Café Four musically march in this characterful piece. A similar sway is used for Matt Croke and Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s duet from Holiday InnHappy Holidays – which uses its big band charm to seed its message of hope for the new year, although in spite of the lyrics few will be wishing 2020 a fond farewell.

There are some interesting changes of pace in this festive special with the inclusion of numbers with a darker feel including Manon Taris’ Ave Maria Païen from Notre Dame de Paris presented in memory of original producer Charles Talar who died in October. Sung in French and staged as though in a church with candles and coloured lights reflecting stained glass windows, in this atmospheric performance Taris suggests fear and inspiration as she optimistically sings about breaking down the barriers between us.

Cassidy Janson’s White Christmas has a melancholy edge that feels perfectly suited to the Christmas many of us are about to have starting at the piano before opening out slightly to include the Café Four and a digital snow effect. It is also great to see the ArtsEd class of 2020 given an chance to perform Seasons of Love from Rent, a lovely, harmonized piece wrapped in winter scarves that gives a welcome opportunity to the industry’s future stars for a showcase vocal performance.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and the Theatre Channel’s takeaway message is ultimately a happy one, concluding with a couple of upbeat numbers to lift our spirits including 60s-inspired staging and choreography for Turkey Lurkey Time from the rarely seen Promises Promises sung by Zizi Strallen and the huge street dance number A Brand New Day from The Wiz that bursts joyfully out of the Theatre Café and in to the Box Office, auditorium and stage of the Duke of York’s Theatre – a venue yet to reopen and still bearing its March theatre posters, so it is lovely to see its interior once again. Performed with energy by Rachel John, this closing number is a big slice of theatre to end the episode and the year on a high.

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