It never fails to amaze me just how much talent there is in the West End. Theatre fans that are able to make it in on a regular basis may not realise just how fortunate they are to be able to do so. There are people all over the UK who appreciate the joys of the stage but find their chances to relish in it up close and in person severely limited, simply due to where they live. If you happen to live in the northern regions of the country, travelling down to London to take in a show is not the easiest thing in the world; it takes advance planning and that age-old gripe – money. The likes of YouTube, DVDs and cast recordings may be some comfort to these people, but there’s nothing like experiencing the glorious voices of West End performers in the flesh. For most, the touring productions of West End musicals are their best hope, but they only turn up in particular venues, for a limited period, and invite a high-demand for tickets due to the number of people eager to capitalise on the opportunity, so the more the better!
There are always those performers who want to help bring a little extra taste of the West End to these fans – my mum thoroughly enjoyed Direct from the West End, the brainchild of Musical Ovation Ltd. (Scott Garnham/Martin Neely) which brought classic musical theatre songs performed by West End stars to those outside of London. There is one group of people which have dedicated their time to this issue for over ten years now.
The Westenders were formed in 2002 with one single objective: to bring the magic of musical theatre to the masses. The six-strong group tour around the UK performing everyone’s favourite songs from the West End’s longest running musical Les Miserables, along with a selection of classics from other popular shows. The Westenders were co-founded by Frances Fry (Les Miserables, Oliver!), Linda Jarvis (Les Miserables, Aspects of Love), Jill Nalder (Les Miserables, Oliver!), John Osboldeston (Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof) and MD Jae Alexander (West Side Story, Cats). A variety of West End stars have performed with them on stage over the years, including (for the boys) Andrew Newey (Miss Saigon, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat), Stephen Weller (Les Miserables, Martin Guerre), Shaun Kerrison (Les Miserables, Pirates of Penzance), Gareth Snook (Phantom, Les Miserables), Adrian Grove (The Threepenny Opera, Newfoundland), Alasdair Harvey (Les Miserables, Phantom), Nick Pound (Les Miserables, Cats) and Tim Rogers (West Side Story, Whistle Down the Wind) and (for the girls) Helen Hobson (Les Miserables, Heathcliff), Lisa Peace (Les Miserables, The Witches of Eastwick), Jill Nalder (Les Miserables, Oliver!), Lynda Jarvis (Les Miserables, Aspects of Love), Lyndsay Danvers (Les Miserables, Cats) and Lucy Newton (Les Miserables, Fame!). Spencer James (Mary Poppins, Guys and Dolls) is also a member of the team as the associate MD.
The Westenders’ shows have sold-out in venues all over the UK, as well as travelling overseas to Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands and Austria, and on the seas with cruise companies Cunard, Crystal and P&O.
In 2012, they will be touring the UK again with The Best Musicals Ever!, which visits Skegness, Colchester, Bury St Edmunds, Dartford, Gloucester, Blyth, Stamford and Maidstone between April – October 2012, before embarking on a European tour from 26th October – 5th November 2012. Their second album is also released this week. The Westenders: Hear The People Sing follows their highly successful debut album from 2009, which featured songs from musicals such as Les Miserables, It’s a Wonderful Life and West Side Story. Their new release is a double-sided album which once again offers fans a delicious spread of musical theatre classics to take a bite out of, with songs from Les Miserables, Evita, Mary Poppins, We Will Rock You, Blood Brothers, Phantom, Wicked and many more.
The Westenders is comprised of a group of outstanding individuals who have some fantastic musical theatre achievements to their name. They’ve stood on a range of West End stages and their collective number of more than twenty years’ experience in the industry is impressive by any standard. Now they’re sharing that experience with the world that exists outside of London and that is certainly something theatre fans are not going to want to miss.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)