Concept and Creative Direction: Ryan Carter
Have you ever wondered what would happen if the women of musical theatre met one another; if Eponine and Christine compared their experience of loving the wrong man or perhaps if Velma Kelly and Sally Bowles exchanged notes on their club-singing lifestyles? The Barn Theatre takes us one step closer with a design-your-own-concert featuring 14 different singers, of which there are over 150 potential combinations.
The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is more or less yours to control with five decisions to make across this 25-minute show. The instructions are clear, at each interactive decision point the viewer has 45 seconds to select from two or three performance options. These are static so if you buy additional tickets to go through a second or third time to see all the singers, the same options are offered at each point.
Your first choice results in one of the leading ladies arriving in the darkened rooms of the Secret Society, turning on the lights and removing cloths from the tables before launching into her own song performed as a concert extract on a fixed stage. The set-up is similar to the Theatre Channel, short music video bursts but with added storytelling as the performers appear to interact with one another between numbers.
Artistic Director Ryan Carter has created a strong concept with several alternative discussions that respond to your choices. And like the Theatre Channel, the musical options are broad ranging, eschewing the usual suspects for pieces from some very different and less well-known shows including Steel Pier, Bonnie and Clyde, and Shrek as well new productions like Mean Girls and Sister Act and more familiar works like Into the Woods.
For this performance, the first selection was from Mean Girls with Allie Daniel performing I’d Rather Be Me, Janis’ song about empowerment and self-acceptance. The fun really starts at the end when she spots another person in the room – it is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (if you pick her). Kayla Carter almost steals the show in the second song with her glorious version of Over the Rainbow. Her voice is rich and velvety with a lovely tone, a real showstopper.
That is until the Witch from Into the Wood arrives to sing The Last Midnight. Aisha Jawando gives one of the most notable performances in this high-quality set, staged in a low light, her tone is cheeky and mocking at times, with a gleeful intonation on the more destructive lyrics which she gives a hint of a cackle on the long notes. As she fades out, the system offers you a two-minute interval, which you can skip through before making your final song choices.
Aoife Clesham sings The History of Wrong Guys from Kinky Boots and fills it with sultry personality, energetically exploring the comedy of her character’s dating mishaps. With a fourth Lady inducted into the Secret Society, Dorothy notes it’s 11 o’clock so time for a ballad, offering up Out Here on My Own from Fame sung by Natalie Kassanga providing a bittersweet vocal and tender performance to see out the show.
All of these singers cleverly evoke the wider musical that the song represents before they all come together for a Big Finish – an Encore for all 14 Leading Ladies singing separately but with their voices melded together to create harmonised sound. A fun design-you-own experience, the Barn Theatre lets you imagine what these great characters may have to say to one another, while equally celebrating the musical talents of their performers.
Runs here from 22 February until 7 March 2021