Now in its fifth year, West End Bares sees performers from across the heart of London’s West End volunteering to put on a show and strip in aid of the Make A Difference Trust (MAD Trust) - the entertainment industry charity dedicated to helping people living with HIV and AIDS in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The all-star line-up of guest presenters for this year’s show includes Jake Canuso, James Dreyfuss, Matt Evers, Jill Halfpenny, Helen Lederer and Harriet Thorpe. West End Bares was the brainchild of Broadway and West End director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell who began the American version over 25 years ago in New York during the middle of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The London edition began five years ago when Darren worked with Jerry on Legally Blonde. West End Bares has raised more than £100,000 for the MAD Trust over the past four years. The event aims to promote safe sex and raise awareness about the HIV and AIDS climate that we now live in.
Darren is currently a swing in Jerry Mitchell’s West End production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy Theatre. He is also the production’s associate choreographer. He previously worked as the resident choreographer in Ghost the Musical and as the dance captain in Viva Forever! (both Piccadilly).
Darren’s theatre credits also include: Legally Blonde (Savoy), La Cage Aux Folles (Playhouse), Candide (ENO), The Lord of the Rings (Drury Lane), Guys and Dolls (Piccadilly), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (National), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Palladium), The Witches of Eastwick (Prince of Wales), Fosse (Prince of Wales), Chicago (Adelphi), Cats (Cyprus), Debbie Does Dallas (Oxford Old Fire Station), Beauty and the Beast (RSC, Stratford-Upon-avon) and Saturday Night Fever (UK Tour).
I recently spoke to Darren about making West End Bares one of the biggest events in the theatrical calendar, why he loves this year’s ‘Nudedunnit?!’ theme, life in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and why Jerry Mitchell is one of the most inspirational people he has ever met…
West End Bares is back and it’s bigger and better than ever before. What have you got up your sleeve for this year’s show?
We’ve gone bigger with the story this year. We always have our numbers based around a central theme, but because we’re doing the murder mystery theme this year we can incorporate a little bit more story so we’re branching out a bit! There will be all the numbers, all the nakedness and then there will also be a little bit of a story to follow which is great.
I came up with the murder mystery theme when I was with my dog in the park! It literally came to me and I thought it’s a brilliant, brilliant idea because we can go anywhere we like with the characters who are playing the suspects and we can use all the weapons and motives. I do love coming up with all the ideas!
West End Bares 2013 / Photo Credit: Darren Bell
And you’ve also taken over social media with the Stripathon…
Yes! It’s gone crazy this year! We have always done JustGiving pages for the performers in the show, but this year we’ve opened it up to anyone who wants to help raise money for West End Bares. It’s really worked because you don’t have to be in West End Bares to raise money for West End Bares. It has been fantastic and I am absolutely overwhelmed by how much money we have raised so far!
All the money raised goes to the MAD Trust which is such an important charity…
Absolutely! We’ve done it for five years for the MAD Trust now and it’s important because obviously with HIV and Aids there seems to be this strange notion that it’s not a problem anymore. People need to realise that it is still a disease which can completely change your life and affect you in ways you can’t imagine. It’s about raising awareness and making people take responsibility for their own health.
I understand you set up West End Bares following the huge success of Broadway Bares?
They will be doing their 25th anniversary next year! It’s a huge, huge part of the theatrical calendar over there and I’m so pleased West End Bares is becoming a big part of the West End calendar. We’re not quite at the same level as Broadway Bares just yet [laughs], I think they raised $1.5million last time in one night which is just incredible! But we will get there!
Jerry Mitchell started Broadway Bares and, as well as West End Bares, you’ve worked with him several times including on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Legally Blonde. What is he like to work with?
He is incredible! It might sound strange, but he is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met! He walks into a room and his energy is incredible – he can literally lift an entire room of people just by walking in and bringing this unbelievable energy. I believe that is what has made Broadway Bares the event that it is. He has had a massive influence on my life. His positivity and enthusiasm is what made me want to set up West End Bares.
The cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels / Photo Credit: Johan Persson
How is life in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
It’s great! It’s a fun show! It’s one of the happiest ensembles I’ve ever worked with. We’ve got quite a few seasoned pros in there and for a few it is their first or second job – so it’s a nice mix of fresh enthusiasm and knowledge and experience. It’s not often you can say you love going into work, but I really do!
Imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take and why?
I would take ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ from Kinky Boots just because that’s always going to be inspiring and keep you happy! I would also take ‘With You’ from Ghost the Musical for when I’m feeling a little down, and I would also take… it has to be a classic… oh I know – it would be something from Into The Woods! Maybe Jack’s ‘Giants in the Sky’, you’ve got to have some Sondheim in your life!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
West End Bares ‘Nudedunnit?!’ takes place at Café de Paris this Sunday (7th September) for two performances only at 9.30pm and midnight. Please visit www.madtrust.org.uk for further information and www.westendbares.com to purchase tickets and to find our more about the Stripathon.