Conductor: Freddie Tapner
Currently taking a six-week break from her lead role in Waitress while the show’s composer Sara Bareilles appears nightly in the show, Lucie Jones just can’t stay away from the Adelphi.
Her initial ambitions were, she admits in one of her spoken interludes, more modest. In discussions with friend (and conductor of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra) Freddie Tapner, the plan started out as an hour at Zédel venue The Crazy Coqs with Tapner accompanying. “Things escalated,” she notes wryly as she stands in front of the full LMTO contingent, facing a sell-out audience in one of the West End’s largest auditoria in a concert that will be released as a live album later this year.
After a brief fake-out with a few bars from Waitress number What’s Inside, Jones opens the show proper with Funny Girl’s Don’t Rain On My Parade. As an opener, it sets out Jones’s stall perfectly: a musical theatre standard familiar to all, sung impeccably.
The most obscure her song choice gets is her second number, the Kander and Ebb song Sing Happy, one of the few break-out numbers from Flora the Red Menace and a favourite of Liza Minnelli. The LMTO’s swing credentials come to the fore here, complementing Jones’s breezy confidence.
And as Jones kicks off her high heels to continue barefoot (“those who’ve seen me before know it’s quite impressive for me to do two whole songs in shoes,” she quips) that confidence and assuredness continues. There’s modesty mixed in there, too – Jones is a performer who comes across as never quite believing she’s ascended to West End leading lady quite as quickly as she has, yet is utterly comfortable in the role. It is a beguiling combination, a far more honest persona than concerts from West End performers who have decades more experience can muster.
There’s a cheekiness in there, too, and not just in the easy chat between songs. A rendition of The Last 5 Years’ Summer in Ohio, in which the heroine bemoans life in a low-quality musical beneath her talents, is delivered with all the humour it needs, while So Much Better from Legally Blonde (Jones having played the lead role of Elle Woods at Leicester’s Curve theatre) ascends from quiet self-doubt to boisterous, delightful assertiveness.
Jones’s first guest duettist, tenor John Owen-Jones, pops on stage to perform The Prayer, a song which the pair first performed on Owen-Jones’s 2018 album Spotlight. That recording saw each singer record their track separately, marking this concert as the first time they have performed the duet in public (an impromptu performance in a Twickenham hospitality box at an England v Wales rugby match notwithstanding). It’s a great performance, showcasing Owen-Jones’s marvellous tenor and Jones’s melodiously lyrical voice in equal measure.
Act I closes with A Piece of Sky from Yentl, suggested by her agent to show she can do more than belt (“although,” Jones laughs, “we’ve changed the key so I do belt”). It’s a powerful, emotional and uplifting way of sending the audience out into the bars and merchandise stands. Similarly, the second act opener (Into the Unknown from Frozen II) re-engages and invigorates the newly refreshed audience. Interval transitions are some of the hardest things for concerts like these to accomplish, and bad choices can torpedo the best of evenings; no such worries here.
After a beautiful rendition of God Help the Outcasts (one of the best songs from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwarz’s compositions for Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and one that deserves to be in more singers’ cabaret repertoire), Jones invites her Waitress costar Marisha Wallace for the evening’s second duet. Here, though, the song choice is an odd one. Not for its placement in Jones’s life – Take Me or Leave Me from Rent is a reminder of her role as Maureen in the musical’s 20th anniversary tour.
Rather, this is a duet that leaves Wallace silent for an inordinately long time at the top of the number, which means that there is much more of an imbalance between the two duettists than in Jones’s partnering with Owen-Jones. Still, this is a number the pair have performed onstage before and clearly enjoy sharing, and that joy cannot fail to come across.
If Jones’s agent was keen to get Jones to demonstrate she can do more than belt, her soft and sensual performance on Moon River (accompanied only by Camilla Pay on harp and Boz Vukotic on cello) accomplishes that, as indeed does her rendition of Waitress’ stand out number, She Used to Be Mine. It is not uncommon for actors to talk about how much a particular role means to them; much rarer for it to be as palpably true as when Jones talks about playing Jenna.
Another number that clearly means a lot to Jones is Never Give Up On You, the song she performed while representing the UK in 2017’s Eurovision Song Contest. The LMTO’s orchestral arrangement lends a very different air to the song, while highlighting the quality of both songwriting and performance that helped propel Jones to the UK’s best competition performance for years.
Closing the show with a rambunctious performance of That’s Life (in an arrangement by fellow Waitress alumna Katherine McPhee), Jones brings the curtain down on a magnificent evening of entertainment. And the obligatory encore number is the icing on the cake, with a sonorous rendition of Bring Him Home from Les Misérables.
While there are numerous reminders throughout the evening that Lucie Jones didn’t reach her current level in West End’s fickle hierarchy by a traditional route (having competed in X Factor after being rejected by numerous drama schools), her concert proves that a combination of talent, hard work and remaining grounded are far more important. Jones is the consummate leading lady, and the live album that results from this concert will surely be a must-listen.
Reviewed on 16 February 2020