Filmed during Summer 2020, West End Musical Drive-In is a live outdoor concert, featuring talent from theatre’s hottest shows.
Hosted by a fun and energetic Shanay Holmes (whose credits include Rent, The Bodyguard and Jesus Christ Superstar) the concert is performed to an audience parked up in their cars. A very retro solution to a contemporary problem, honking horns and flashing headlights replace applause – and it’s clear from the outset that the audience has missed live performance as much as the performers themselves. This concert may be a long way from the West End, but the appetite for theatre is unmistakable.
This is a concert very much focused on giving good value – and at just under two hours running time – West End Musical Drive-In is crammed with songs. Including material from Kinky Boots, Hamilton and Les Miserables, the concert neatly charts the landscape of musicals from classics such as Pippin to the pop influence of the Sara Barielles-penned Waitress.
The concert not only looks at musicals past and present, but keeps its eye on the future too. As the headliner, Layton Williams (Hairspray, Rent and the title role in Everybody’s Talking about Jamie) dazzles the crowd with full-on routines, packed with dance content and strong vocals. Starting with a Jamie medley, Williams gets the audience out of their cars and into the mood for some serious (socially-distanced) dancing. Performing Wall in my Head and then moving onto songs from Rent (I’ll Cover You and Today for You, Tomorrow for Me) Williams’ wit and charisma proves an instant hit with the audience. His performance of Land of Lola from Kinky Boots hints at the next possible direction for Layton’s career. There’s no doubting Williams’ level of commitment either: even as the weather turns, we still get 100% from him, including a back-flip in the rain.
In addition to the headline act, West End Musical Drive-In serves up quality musical theatre talent. Olivier-nominated for her role in Six, Maiya Quansah-Breed introduces herself with a fabulous interpretation of Burn from Hamilton. Quansah-Breed’s superb voice transports us right back to the sensation of being in the theatre. Her interaction with the audience is warm and generous – as the party atmosphere gets underway during the second act, Quansah-Breed’s Proud Mary becomes a group performance.
The night not only boasts musical theatre and pop, but original music as well. Performing the title track from her Brave Heart EP, Shan Ako (Les Miserables, Whitney: Queen of the Night) performs an emotive song about resilience and strength. Ako’s ability as a songwriter is impressive; proving that Taylor Swift does not have the monopoly on lockdown creativity.
Towards the end of the concert, we are reminded that the drive-in took place against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests. With an all-Black cast, West End Musical makes a powerful statement about the profile of young Black actors working in British theatre. All of the performers featured here have either leading or prominent roles on their CV. Finishing the evening, Shanay Holmes takes to the stage with This is Me from The Greatest Showman. It’s a stunning end to the show, finishing on a bright note of optimism. The concert is not just about showcasing talent, but leaning into a positivity that has proved essential over the past few months. West End Musical will be back with new concerts later this year, this time returning to the stage.
Available here until 21 March 2021