Directors: Nick Barstow and Gareth Weedon
In a year of severe disruption, the theatre industry has rallied by maintaining those all-important connections with its audience. Thespie’s latest online concert, All I Want for Christmas is Theatre, is a perfect example of how the industry is, despite what else is going on, still giving the audience what it wants.
This concert features the best of festive music – classic and contemporary – performed by West End talent from shows such as Heathers, Six and Dear Evan Hansen. Starting with a cheeky, flirty Santa Claus is Coming to Town from T’Shan Williams, Sophie Isaacs and Jodie Steele; the three performers from Heathers have a great rapport. Recreating a 60’s girl group vibe with The Ronettes’ hit Baby, Please Come Home, this is one of the highlights of the show.
Of course, Christmas can be emotionally conflicting – hitting that sweet spot between nostalgia and melancholy is the songwriting equivalent of winning the lottery. Written during a heatwave, the Nat King Cole classic The Christmas Song is so firmly embedded in the tradition of Christmas, it feels rooted in its DNA. Performed here by Bob Harms (whose recent work includes Come From Away) he understands the value of a good lyric. Showcasing his rich tone, Harms delivers the song with elegance and precision – exactly what the song requires.
All I Want for Christmas shifts from the traditional to the modern throughout the programme. With Alice Fearn at the piano, the Joni Mitchell song River sits right at the edge of that nostalgic / melancholic point. This is very much Christmas in a minor key. Fearn beautifully engages with the song’s emotional high points, including those soaring notes scattered throughout Mitchell’s work. It’s a real tour de force, with Fearn leaning into the sadness – this is not an anti-Christmas song, but so much Christmas, it hurts.
Crammed with festive goodies, this concert boasts all killer, no filler. Cast members from Pretty Woman dial up the sass with Santa Baby, and Six’s Natalie Paris gives us old-school Nineties, with Mariah Carey’s Miss You Most (at Christmas Time). If you want hit after hit, this concert is more than happy to oblige. With the Dear Evan Hansen cast performing Merry Christmas, Everyone and the concert ending, suitably, with the newly-anointed Number One, All I Want for Christmas is You, this is a selection box with none of the duds.
In-between the songs, the performers discuss their favourite Christmas memories and hopes for 2021. It is noted, with a real sense of poignancy, how many of them are facing a Christmas away from the stage. As the &Juliet cast sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the lyric “we all will be together, if the fates allow” hits home a little harder than in previous years. The camaraderie between friends and colleagues is self-evident: they are not just getting through, but getting through together.
Whether you like your Christmas with all the bells and whistles, or something a bit quieter, more contemplative – All I Want for Christmas offers something for everyone: the perennial favourites, songs off the beaten track. These are songs that will not only make this season a little brighter, but also take us into a year where hopefully theatre will be back in the spotlight.
Available here until 28 December 2020