REVIEW: Big Night of Musicals, BBC One

Shown on Saturday night, this felt like a real opportunity to celebrate the power and magic of musicals.

First of all it is important to say that it was so lovely to see musical theatre celebrated in a primetime slot on Saturday night – offering some much needed joy to chase away the January blues. This special felt like a real opportunity to celebrate the joy and power of musical theatre that we are lucky to be able to see in the UK.

Hosted by the immensely likeable Jason Manford and recorded at Manchester’s AO Arena, Big Night of Musicals featured a diverse range of musicals and segments to successfully show just how important theatre is as an industry – and how much people rely on it.

Beginning with a really entertaining take of medley of songs from Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun performed with great joy and soul by Jason Manford (including some cheekily adjusted lyrics), it sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the show that is filled with energy and diversity.

This show was a great opportunity to highlight a mixture of musicals, whether it is old favourites like The Lion King or newer shows such as The Drifters Girl (which was one of my favourite performances of the evening including a dynamic performance from Beverley Knight) there was certainly something included for everybody’s musical theatre tastes. It was also lovely to see regional theatre’s musical offerings highlighted with a fun performance of ‘Ease On Down The Road’ from the cast of The Wiz which has just concluded its run at the 100 seat Hope Mill Theatre – although I did slightly feel that the sound was ever so slightly off.

It would have also been lovely to see other regional theatre’s represented in the show – for example it would have been nice to see a performance from the Leicester Curve’s recent revival of A Chorus Line represented. This being said, the show did include a few touring productions: a spine tingling performance from Chelsea Halfpenny who is currently starring as Jenna in the UK tour of Waitress – her rendition of ‘She Used to be Mine’ was mesmerising, while the UK touring casts of Bat Out of Hell and School of Rock appeared to have taken the roof off the arena with their renditions of ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and ‘Teacher’s Pet’.

I loved the way in which the digital backdrops were used to give a full effect of the show on display. In particular, the build up to The Back to the Future performance of ‘Gotta Start Somewhere’ was very exciting to witness on screen – let alone being in the arena hearing Cedric Neal’s powerful vocals and seeing the ensemble filling the stage with energetic and playful choreography. It also works really well during the Disney medley of The Lion King,Frozen and Beauty and the Beast in which each musical is represented in subtle but imaginative ways to give the audience a real idea of what they can expect if they come along.

But it wasn’t just about the music and the performances. There were also sections highlighting the work that happens behind the scenes, showing how theatre companies are championing for diversity and how National Lottery funding has helped to support the industry – it felt as much as raising awareness that this is an industry more than just about entertaining people – but also people’s livelihoods and passion.

It was impossible not to enjoy this show – and certainly a musical theatre lover’s dream to see musical theatre taking centre stage on primetime television.

By Emma Clarendon

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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