Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: West End Women at the New Wimbledon Theatre starring Joanna Ampil, Kerry Ellis & Ria Jones

West End Women (UK Tour)
New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed on Thursday 27th November 2014

Starring three of theatre's most renowned leading ladies, West End Women is a celebration of all things theatre. Featuring more classic musical theatre songs than you could possibly wish for, West End Women provides an evening of theatrical joy. 

Joanna Ampil took to the stage with tremendous grace. Throughout the evening she treated the audience to impeccable renditions of 'Memory' (Cats), 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' (Jesus Christ Superstar) and 'On My Own' (Les Miserables). Ampil made her West End debut when she was cast as Kim in Miss Saigon at just seventeen years old. During a touching tribute to her time in the show, Ampil gave stunning performances of 'The Movie In My Mind' and 'Last Night of the World'. 

Known as the first lady of the West End, Kerry Ellis (pictured right) looked so at home on stage. Ellis has performed in concerts all over the world and her experience shows. Following the release of her recent must-have self-titled album, Ellis belted out 'Take That Look Off Your Face' (Tell Me on a Sunday) and encouraged the slightly shy Wimbledon audience to join in with 'Somebody To Love' (We Will Rock You).

Green lighting seems to follow Ellis wherever she goes, and there were plenty of green spotlights on hand for her Wicked section (Ellis has starred as Elphaba in the West End and on Broadway) which featured a beautifully stripped back version of 'Defying Gravity'. 

The star of the show was Ria Jones. Out of the three, Jones was the only performer I've never seen in a musical; however, she made the biggest impression. The actress made theatrical history when she became the youngest ever Eva Perón in Evita, taking on the role at just nineteen years old. Each time Jones took to the stage it was clear she meant business; she absolutely went for every song and blew me away with 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' (Evita) and 'All That Jazz' (Chicago). The evening's highlight was Jones' impeccable rendition of 'As If We Never Said Goodbye' from Sunset Boulevard; it was nothing short of mind-blowing. 

ITV Superstar runner-up Rory Taylor is billed as a 'special guest' but seemed to be onstage more than any of the West End Women themselves! The audience weren't complaining though as he belted out many classics including the almighty 'Gethsemane' from Jesus Christ Superstar. Mentions must also go to the two backing singers; Beth Humphries shone during 'Seasons Of Love' whilst Joel Harper- Jackson hugely impressed during the Evita section - it was a huge shame we didn't get to hear more from him. 

Ampil, Ellis and Jones have strong chemistry, but at the moment there is a lack of group numbers. The first act doesn't even end with the three ladies singing. As all three of the West End Women have played Fantine in Les Miserables, they performed an impressive 'I Dreamed A Dream' trio which provided another of the evening's highlights. I would love to have seen more original arrangements throughout the evening as this would have given the show a more exciting edge. 

At present the structure of West End Women is a little weak. I saw the male version, West End Men, during its London run last year and saving the special guest until the second act worked well as it changed the dynamic as the night progressed. Occasionally too many big numbers are performed right after each other meaning the show lacks peaks – having so many big songs sandwiched together is almost a little overwhelming. Perhaps the structure could be tweaked to improve the overall journey. There were minor technical issues throughout the evening, but the performers dealt with them well (particularly Jones who is absolutely hysterical). 

I hope the production is brought back after this current tour concludes; there may be room for improvement, but I had a fantastic evening and sat in absolute awe of the talents of Kerry Ellis, Ria Jones and Joanna Ampil. Bringing together three of the most talented performers in musical theatre, West End Women provides a night to remember!

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

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Read our most recent interviews with Joanna AmpilKerry Ellis

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