Performers: Emma Hatton and Nick Shirm
Any new cabaret evening has to work out how to differentiate itself, and forge an identity that almost makes the night sell itself. For West End Cast Party, a new fortnightly evening in the underground cocktail bar in Holborn’s Middle Eight Hotel, that differentiating factor is audience inclusivity.
With a song catalogue that picks off some of the best and most well-known songs in the mainstream musical theatre canon, hosts Emma Hatton and Nick Shirm encourage singalongs, dancing and even to join them on stage.
And generally the mood is upbeat, starting with Roxie (The Name on Everybody’s Lips) from Chicago and continuing straight into Frozen’s Love is an Open Door. Even when the tempo drops, such as with a jazzy, soulful reworking of the Bee Gees’ How Deep is Your Love, the audience are encouraged to join in with the backing vocals.
A linking theme between the featured musicals, Hatton explains, is “all the shows I’ve auditioned for, and never got.” Which, in common with many hard-working, hard-auditioning West End performers, doesn’t really narrow things down all that much. But it does allow Hatton to perform a couple of songs from the likes of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – both the title song, and One Fine Day – and a full-on Cock-er-nee rendition of My Fair Lady’s Wouldn’t It Be Luverly.
The numbers which Shirm picks for his own solos seem to have less of a theme, other than being great songs which demonstrate his vocal ability. From Waving Though a Window from Dear Evan Hansen through to the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley creation of Pure Imagination (written for the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) , Shirm always delivers a powerful, soulful timbre. He also makes frequent, self-deprecating reference to the “cheesiness” of song choices: in reality, these are mainstream musical theatre bangers which more pretentious cabaret nights might spurn. A little less apology for that would not go amiss.
And nowhere is that more evident than in one of Shirm and Hatton’s early duets, a rendition of Alan Mencken’s Beauty and the Beast that echoes the arrangement made popular by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Artistically, it’s the highlight of the evening.
But in terms of fun, one can’t really fault the final collection of numbers. From The Power of Love from Back to the Future, through to 9 to 5, the Commodores’ All Night Long (“shoehorned in,” admits Hatton, but just about counting due to its inclusion in Motown the Musical) and the title song from Footloose are all crowdpleasers, with attendees dancing, singing along and generally just having a blast.
Bringing the evening to a close, both the “official” last song of Seasons of Love from Rent and the inevitable encore number, Dirty Dancing’s (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, sum up the mood of the evening. This is a night for celebrating the West End’s biggest tunes, and the delight that they bring.
Reviewed on 22 August 2022