Musical Director: Sam Young
Showcasing talent from 2020 and 2021, the Graduates at Cadogan Hall concert opens with host Grace Mouat summarising where musical theatre currently finds itself. With shows on hiatus, graduates entering the industry are unable to access opportunities to build career momentum.
In response to this crisis, The Grad Fest and Ameena Hamid Productions have assembled a series of concerts to promote new musical theatre talent, to give the graduates “the stage and audience they deserve”. Starting the concert with Abel Law’s cover of One Night Only from Dreamgirls. Law adapts the song to make it communicate what he wants to say. Stepping out from the Dreamgirls mould, the song becomes deeper and more soulful, with Law’s confident, unhurried phrasing.
Revisiting classics is a theme that runs through the concert, with Jo Stephenson and Lewis Snell both giving us fresh, modern takes on familiar songs. The light, smoky quality to Stephenson’s voice is shown off beautifully in Renee Olstead’s A Love that Will Last, and Snell’s powerhouse vocals in I’’d Rather Go Blind are superb. He sets us at ease immediately – this is a graduate already comfortable in his own skin.
Song selection is crucial, particularly in terms of identifying and introducing your own ‘brand’. Sam Rippon’s choice of I’d Rather Go Sailing from A New Brain, sets him apart. It’s a bold move, but Rippon’s graceful, urbane presence dovetails perfectly with the quirky, subversive lyrics. Going with a well-established favourite is also tricky, but Alice Croft, with She Used to be Mine from Waitress, resists the temptation to add elements, instead singing it very simply. Croft’s performance is poignant, heartfelt and highly sophisticated.
It is not just the level of technical ability that impresses here, but also the graduates’ ability to make fearless choices. In Finishing the Line from Sunday in the Park with George, Jay Worley contemplates the price paid through artistic endeavour, “watching the rest of the world from a window”. It’s a savvy, accomplished performance from Worley, who approaches Sunday with an appreciation for its subtlety of language.
The concert ends with Kyle Birch’s Home from The Wiz. Birch is an excellent story-teller, and this song works well for him. Birch’s on-stage presence may be understated, but his voice demands attention. This is a performer not only with his best years ahead of him, but also with a great deal to offer the industry.
The showcase does exactly what it sets out to do – the graduates are given the time and space – accompanied by musical director Sam Young – to present how they see themselves now, and who they could become. It’s an encouraging sign, that even against the backdrop of such uncertainty, the graduates are so confident in seeking out their own individual voice. The future of musical theatre indeed feels like it’s in safe hands. With the promise of diversity and boldness, theatre isn’t so much on pause, it’s already here. Ready, just waiting in the wings.
Available here, along with two more concerts, until 4 April 2021