Musicals are a great source of entertainment, with even the most serious-minded of them providing a little light relief to combat the weightiness of the piece – think the Thernadiers in Les Miserables. Sometimes though, musical theatre can entertain in a way it never intended when it suddenly finds itself the butt of the joke.
At most cabarets, there’ll be one performer poking fun at the industry with the almost obligatory satirical song, but Jest End is fast gaining a reputation as the hot ticket in town if you’re a musical theatre fan who wants to enjoy some of the West End’s finest giving their livelihood a good-natured ribbing. Now in its fourth year, the popular annul event is back this month for two nights only at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Jest End was created in 2009 by Garry Lake, who along with writing all the material, produces and directs the show. Audiences can expect to hear a range of parodied songs from some of the biggest and best West End musicals, written especially for each event to feature those musicals which are currently running and those which have recently arrived or on their way. This year, long-runners Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked are sure to find themselves spoofed once more, with relative new-comers Matilda, Ghost and Jesus Christ Superstar set to be initiated the ‘Jest End– way’. Lake has also hinted that the recently departed Chicago may be given a ‘Jest End’ send-off.
There is also an impressive line-up of West End stars joining in with the joke this year. Leading the Jest End cast are Rachel Wooding, Matt Henry, Carl Mullaney and Ashley Russell.
Wooding has played numerous roles in West End musicals, including ‘Amber’ in Hairspray, ‘Meat’ in We Will Rock You, ‘Serena’ in Fame and, most recently, ‘Mary Delgado’ in Jersey Boys. She has also toured in productions of Loveshack, Footloose and Evita, as well as featuring on the studio cast recording of Coronation Street: The Musical. She can next be seen at the Dominion Theatre when she returns to We Will Rock You to take on the lead role of ‘Scaramouche’ opposite Oliver Thompsett (Rock of Ages, Wicked) as ‘Galileo’.
Henry has previously played ‘Mr Beaver’ in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe , ‘Sammy Davis Jr.’ in The Rat Pack: Live From Las Vegas and was most recently seen playing ‘Gary Coleman’ in the national tour of Avenue Q, resuming the role he first played in the West End production. He has also appeared in the musicals Miss Saigon and The Lion King.
Mullaney is currently appearing as ‘Bamatabois’ in the West End’s Les Miserables, having previously played the role in the 25th Anniversary touring production. He was also involved in the 25th Anniversary concert at the 02 Arena in 2010. His previous theatre credits include Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, Northern Souls and If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!, as well as a recurring stint as ‘Mary Sunshine’ in Chicago, performing the role in the international tour, the West End and the 10th anniversary gala performance. He is also the regular host of the weekly Kinky Kabaret at Freedom Bar, Soho.
Russell was one of the finalists on the BBC show I’d Do Anything’ in 2008, narrowly missing out on the role of ‘Nancy’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Oliver! when she was voted off in week seven. Since then, she has appeared as ‘Killer Queen’ in We Will Rock You and ‘Nun’ in Sister Act and is currently playing ‘Mama Bear/Mama Ogre’ in Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
The four lead performers will be supported by a further array of West End talent, including Suzy Almond (Dreamboats and Petticoats), Ceili O’Connor (The Wizard of Oz, The Fantasticks), Zoe Doana (Les Miserables), Wayne Fitzsimmons (Chicago), Oliver Roll (Viva Forever) and Andrew Simeon (We Will Rock You). Joining them as the top support act will be The Tenors of Rock, the seven-piece cover rock band featuring some of musical theatre’s best voices. They are returning to Jest End after opening the event last year in a triumphant debut.
Those who have previously been to Jest End will be in no doubt as to what hilarity awaits this year. The 2011 event was a rip-roaring success, featuring the likes of Sarah French, Ross Hunter, Mark Dugdale, Leanne Pinder, Sophie Carmen Jones and David Rudin. There were a never-ending stream of side-splitting parodies, such as French’s performance of ‘Your Tunes Never Die’ (title song from Love Never Dies), ‘I Am Barrowman’ by Ross Hunter (‘I Am What I Am’ from La Cage au Folles) and ‘One More Year’ (‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables) by the whole Jest End company – the three-way performance of ‘I’m So Old’ (‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables), spoofing three particular Les Miserables actors/actresses was also a particular favourite. Live performance videos from previous Jest End’s are there for your viewing pleasure on YouTube, but there’s much more to come with this year’s event, with Lake having rewritten a certain Tim Minchin number and posting on twitter that ‘Chris Moyles is not gonna be a fan of JEST END 2012’.
Jeremy Wootton is in charge of musical direction in 2012, with choreography by Rebecca Howell. Lake clearly has a blast with Jest End, recently commenting that: “This has been such a monumental year for London, it felt only fitting to tribute our glorious West End once more in this affectionate way in 2012.” He added to this statement on the Jest End twitter account, saying: ‘Can’t wait to pay homage to the soon to be slated, the recently departed, the loved and cherished and the intensely hated’.
The wear and tear of general day-to-day life can sometimes make it hard to find your smile, but a few hours in the company of the Jest End crew and I guarantee it’ll be nigh on impossible to wipe it from your face. They say that laughter is the best medicine, so perhaps a big dose of Jest End is just what the doctor ordered?
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)