Being surrounded by die-hard Michael Ball fans isn’t usually something I go for on a Sunday eve (more like a Wednesday) but being present for the second West End Heroes in so many years totally makes up for it. Stars of the stage came together to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes which supports wounded soldiers and ensures they make the best recovery possible through both physical and psychological aids. This is an absolutely terrific cause and sitting in the audience, it was difficult not to be overwhelmed by the weight of love that goes out to those that have lost a great deal in order to protect us and this country.
Overwhelming too is the breadth of talent gathered to entertain; some widely known and some not so much. Ball’s presentation of the whole evening was a jubilant affair, performing some gentle stand-up to get everybody warmed up (his super fans made my chair shake and vibrate from seriously scary laughter) and his renditions of Les Miserables classic, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, and ‘Anthem’ (from Chess) blew the house down. ‘Love Changes Everything’, however got everyone up on their feet, waving their flags. An extraordinary feeling of unity was felt by all. It’s impossible to praise Ball’s performance without mentioning the West End Heroes Choir, who performed not only with him but many of the other acts throughout the night. Comprised of professional musicians and singers who also work the front- and back-of-house across theatres in London, the talent that shone from each and every one of them was certainly something special.
Fans of Britain’s Got Talent winners, Collabro were in for a treat with ‘Bring Him Home’ – yet another powerful Les Miserables segment but those who have seen the show recently will recognise Carrie Hope Fletcher’s spectacular vocals to ‘On My Own’ as Eponine. I don’t think I’ve felt such a powerful wave of emotion strike such a great number of people as when she gut-wrenchingly did this. Probably the musical highlight of the entire night for me.
The theatrics were certainly on show as huge numbers hit the stage. ‘Anything You Can Do’ from Annie Get Your Gun united Flight Lieutenant Matthew Little and West End star Tiffany Graves, culminating in a tap dance attack from the West End dancers against the Queen’s Colour Squadron, the Band of the Queen’s Division and the Royal Marines Corps of Drums, with the latter team unsurprisingly blowing their opposition out of the water.
Some new, some revivals and some Broadway shows threatened to bowl us over: the cast of Miss Saigon brilliantly performed ‘Bui Doi’, Louise Plowright showcased a song from the upcoming Sleepless in Seattle, and huge Broadway hit Mary Poppins had the older generation in the audience gleefully singing along. A strange addition in ‘Step in Time’ unfortunately saw weak and uncomfortable vocals from ‘cockneys’ and mediocre choreography but an expertly timed stunt which saw one of the performers literally walk up the side and to the top of the stage was approved by a murmur of appreciation.
This all comes down to the wonderful things this event has done for Help for Heroes and the talent on stage mostly created something very special. Hopefully it will continue to be a huge success next year and many more after.
West End Heroes played at the Dominion Theatre on 28 September. For more information, please see the Help for Heroes website. Photo by Claire Bilyard.