The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors. I don’t think Union Theatre could have thought of a more musical theatre-y name if they tried (apart from their last musical theatre concert; The Sound of My Fair Sweeney and I on the Roof). So it is pretty clear what we are in for and it is exactly what Union Theatre delivers - a joyous celebration of musical theatre, and, in particular, this show that celebrates the classics that have swept the award categories such as the Tonys, Oliviers, Oscars, Grammys and even Pulitzers.
Director Victoria Ellery-Jones has done a splendid job in presenting this revue with delightful familiar show tunes and even songs that aren’t heard as much, played by the talented musical director and pianist John Gough, along with Matthew Firkins on percussion. These musicians are so wonderful that they bring the same effect as a 20-piece West End orchestra that gets to the stripped-back core of the songs. Not to mention of course the wonderful harmonies coming from the company whizzing through over 25 songs, it is hard for me to simply list a favourite performance as a great song would follow another great song and then another for the rest of the evening. Luckily they are a glorious mixture of both ensemble pieces, solo or small group songs which give us the wide and beautiful range of musical theatre heaven.
It is also worth noting how glorious this show is as it sits in the St James Church. Though relatively intimate, its architecture is extravagant and epic that it almost feels like we are watching some high-budget scenery at the Palladium or the Hippodrome (and looks even more spectacular thanks to the colourful lighting by Gordon Justham). I couldn’t help but feel that there seems to be a natural link between hearing these musical theatre songs and being in this spiritual environment. I’m not one to discuss the debate this link between religion and theatre as theologians have done in the past, but what I realised is the common denominator about going to church or to see a musical is the sense of community and oneness. In my opinion, the human power of music and joyful song is far greater than religion, and that is what Union Theatre brings in this lovely night of musical theatre classics.
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors runs at the St James Church, Shirley until Saturday 14th July.
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