West End Heroes

June 26, 2013 5:00 pm

It’s a normal Sunday evening in the West End of London. The actors and dancers of London’s theatres are quietly practicing their lines and pirouettes. The theatres are in darkness. It is the one non-glitzy night of the week when we can all take our makeup off and put on a face pack.

But…oh what’s that? There’s a faint sound in the distance…oh wait, it’s getting closer…it’s the sound of brass and percussion! Military bands are a-marching down Oxford Street towards the Dominion Theatre. As they march, the performers of the West End prick up their ears, drop their edamame beans and skip out to join the military men and women. Soon a huge crowd of performers and military men and women are pouring into the Dominion for the first ever West End Heroes gala concert!west end

Well…it didn’t happen quite like that. But wouldn’t it be just amazing if that did actually happen?! Of course it had been meticulously planned by the theatre’s general manager David Pearson over the last two years. The theatre literally didn’t sleep in the run up to the show, but boy did it pay off! Before I get going about the show itself, let me just first tell you all a little bit about what West End Heroes is for. West End Heroes is a new idea, the first show like it in Theatre land and it is a mind-blowing gala event to raise money for Help for Heroes. If you’ve never heard of Help for Heroes before, they’re one of the most well-known UK charities helping injured military personnel. They help with rehabilitation, help the injured adapt to their new lifestyle both physically and mentally, as well as a thousand other things such as supporting other charities and giving support to the families of those injured.

Arriving at the Dominion Theatre, it’s bustling, it’s busy and there’s an ecstatic buzz in the air. Everyone’s made an effort to look good, even the theatre’s made an effort to dress up for the occasion. There are RAF men and women in uniform scattered about with collection buckets, selling West End Heroes flags and brochures. As I push through the crowds to get to my seat, I spot some Chelsea Pensioners in their tell-tale red coats and a ton of glittering medals. I smile and wonder what stories they have to tell. I get to my seat, flag and brochure in hand (100% profit of which goes straight to Help for Heroes) and I don’t have to wait long before the show begins.

It was a breath-taking show starting off with a fanfare from the royal box followed by a 50-piece military orchestra overture. The orchestra was on stage with their highly polished instruments and clothes so neatly pressed I’d be scared to move in them. The orchestra represented all of the military services and they done a fantastic job both on their own and supporting the various acts.

west end The national anthem was played and it was quite a stirring sight to see a 2000 strong audience stand to their feet. It’s something that’s so rare in the UK these days, and it really got everyone ready for a night supporting the troops of Britain.

The host of the evening was the well-known, well-loved entertainer, Brian Conley who kept everyone laughing throughout. He kicked off the first act with a laugh and a song of his own, and was followed by high spirited, high energy performances from the likes of Some Like it Hip Hop, Stomp and Woman the Band. I couldn’t get enough of Woman, the trio of veteran West End leads, who re-jigged Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls and turned it into an Andrews Sisters, war time-esque boogie. They did it with such ease, and I had a little peek up at the Chelsea Pensioners to see if they enjoyed it. They did! Rachel Tucker, who has played various roles in theatre, came on and sang Don’t Rain on My Parade and just about blew everyone away with her powerful rendition and sparkly dress (SO pretty). Daniel Boys and Daisy Pamphlet both sang with the Spitfire Kids choir which is made up of the children of military parents. There were coos and awws from the audience as the children filed on stage and sang Any Dream Will Do from the acclaimed Joseph and the Technicolor Dream coat.

Also in the first act were a number of performers from the military. Flight Lieutenant Matthew Little sang Stars and All I Ask of You from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera respectively. He was professional and his voice could easily match current performers in theatre. And of course there was the best known military singing group, The Soldiers. With recent success in the music world, The Soldiers came on to enthusiastic applause and entertained us all with their renditions of I Gotta Get a Message to You and We Are the Champions at which point the audience all got to their feet and joined in, arms a-waving. Stomp finished off the first act along with the Royal Marines Corps of Drums and then we all got to the bar!

The interval saw drinks a-flowing and donation money accumulating. The bars offered the opportunity to donate £3 to Help for Heroes while buying a drink. It was named ‘Buy a Hero a Drink’ and I believe it was quite the success. Help for Heroes official merchandise was also on sale. I should have bought one of those teddy bears. Too cute.

After a quick drink and a browse at the merchandise, I rushed back to my seat eager for the second act.

And the second act did not disappoint, beginning with a large scale tap number from the musical 42nd Street. The costumes glittered, the music was grin-inducing, I looked around to see how many people were itching to get up to do some impromptu tap in the aisles (a lot). The audience were kept on a high when The Overtones came on stage and the women went wild. I’m surprised knickers weren’t thrown. Their voices work so well together, and if 42nd Street didn’t do it, The Overtones really got everyone going.

The residents of the Dominion Theatre, We Will Rock You were on next singing Bohemian Rhapsody with the orchestra rather than their usual rock band. It worked strangely well and the cast really put their all into it which deservedly led to a standing ovation. This was followed by something a little lighter in the form of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by the cast of Spamalot, and then there was Joe McElderry and Gloria Onitiri who respectively sang the classics Somewhere and I Have Nothing.

General Manager David Pearson came on to remind everyone why we were all there and introduced a former marine who had received help from Help for Heroes. Though it was a small speech he gave, he moved everyone to tears with his honest and open words and his sincere thanks for those who had helped him. To carry on the emotional side of things, and to make the audience break down altogether, were Ellie Lomas and Andy Platt, both military musicians. Together they performed Feels Like Home with a montage of soldiers at war and coming home to their families. There was plenty of sniffling and searching for tissues at that point.

Now the end is nigh, and what’s the best way to end a show other than with a bit of Les Miserables. The current Jean Val Jean, played by Geronimo Rauch, sang Bring Him Home, which I’m surprised didn’t get some people openly weeping into their popcorn, followed by a rousing finish of Do You Hear The People Sing? where the entire company of performers from throughout the night came on stage and sang together. We were all up on our feet, all waving our flags. Some people were a little overly enthusiastic with their flag waving and there was probably one or two eye-pokes or elbow jabs, but what the hey, it was a rousing finish and no one cared anymore! Glitter cannons went off over the audience, the performers took their bows and everyone went absolutely wild.

Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been to anything like this before, but it was honestly one of the greatest shows I have seen, with the perfect balance of fun and seriousness. There will be another show next June, so get on it! Clear your diary! Buy your tickets!

Help for Heroes have got a great ally and fundraiser in the Dominion Theatre, and I cannot wait for West End Heroes 2014.

http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/

http://www.westendheroes.com/

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