Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Review: Jacqueline Hughes Live at Above The Arts

Jacqueline Hughes Live 
Above The Arts
Reviewed on Sunday 29th November 2015

On Sunday afternoon Jacqueline Hughes - winner of West End Frame's 2015 Understudy of the Year Award for standing by as Elphaba on the UK tour of Wicked - made her London solo concert debut at Above The Arts. Long before the sold out show had even begun there was an excited buzz as audience members, who had traveled from all around the UK, took their seats.

Hughes - who is currently appearing in the UK tour of Mary Poppins - opened with a whopping rendition of 'Don't Rain On My Parade' from Funny Girl, immediately filling the intimate space with her remarkably powerful belt. She then showcased the effortlessly tender side of her voice with a stunning rendition of Fleetwood Mac/Eva Cassidy's 'Songbird'. 

As soon as Hughes started speaking to the audience she seemed at ease, pitching the chilled-out tone perfectly. Despite jokingly admitting to being a little nervous about facing two of her biggest fears (doing a solo cabaret plus a matinee performance), Hughes appeared at home and quickly warmed to the lovingly responsive audience.

It was nice to hear the reasons why various songs had been selected; whilst Hughes performed a few favourites, I loved that the set list wasn't obvious - there were some unexpected surprises which worked a treat. 

The afternoon was broken up nicely with solo numbers from Hughes' special guests. First up was her former Wicked co-star Oliver Brenin who performed 'Take A Chance On Me' from Little Women before joining Hughes to sing 'As Long As You're Mine' from "that little show" called Wicked. She then welcomed best friend/fellow West End actress Lyndsey Gardiner who performed a flawless rendition of 'Love Never Dies' before later returning to sing with Hughes.

My first highlight of the evening was when Hughes truly let rip on her cover of 'What's Up' by 4 Non Blondes. The song was a perfect fit for the star's vocal range and she seemingly had an absolute ball. After thanking fans from the bottom of her heart for voting her as the winner of WEF's 2015 Understudy of the Year Award, Hughes welcomed Carolyn Maitland - who won the same Award in 2014 - to the stage. The duo performed a truly special rendition of 'Who Will Love Me As I Am?' from Side Show, with their voices blending beautifully together to close the first act. Maitland later returned to sing a haunting performance of Demi Lovato's 'Stone Cold'.

The second half opened with an almighty bang as Hughes returned to sing a hilarious rendition of 'An Old-Fashioned Love Story' from Wild Party, a show the actress would be perfect for should it ever find its way to London. Hughes dedicated her performance of Scott Alan's 'Home' to her supportive family; she then admitted to being a huge Kander and Ebb fan so proceeded to sing 'Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries' leading into 'All That Jazz'. 

As the show drew to a close Hughes performed a second song from Funny Girl, 'My Man', impressively showing no sign of vocal tiredness. Of course the audience wanted more, so Hughes returned to the stage for a final time to belt out a devine rendition of 'The Wizard and I' from Wicked. Hughes' voice soared over all the big money notes, making it look and sound like a walk in the park. 

Jacqueline Hughes is an absolute dream; she owned every number and showcased so many different sides to her incredible voice. She performed with tremendous warmth, proving herself as a capable leading lady - let's hope her days of defying gravity aren't over just yet...

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Jacqueline Hughes played Above The Arts as part of the Sunday In The Arts series. Follow @SundayInTheArts for updates about future shows.

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