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Review of ‘What Would Julie Do? Live’ at The Pheasantry

Joanne McGuinness
Joanne McGuinness

There are some references sprinkled here and there to Dame Julie Andrews in What Would Julie Do?, but not, at the risk of pedantry, a huge amount of consideration for what Dame Julie might feasibly do when faced with the challenges of everyday living, and particularly those faced by carers. Still, in revised versions of a couple of well-known musical numbers are some fresh scenarios and possible solutions, or at least coping strategies, to get through a difficult day.

There are those with both dependent children and elderly parents who all need looking after, for instance, and juggling such responsibilities as well as full-time employment is hardly a walk in the park. But everyone is ultimately a carer, because there is a duty and responsibility to self-care first. If that sounds selfish, here’s an example not mentioned in the show – the aeroplane oxygen mask. Not securing one’s own mask first before helping others with theirs means one’s own ability to assist becomes significantly hampered very quickly indeed.

There was reluctance in the first half to share much about what each of the songs meant, if anything, to the performers. Some details from Rosie Williamson with regards to why certain songs were chosen proved helpful to an extent, but it was only in the second half, when Joanne McGuinness took to the stage, that a proper narrative started flowing, even if McGuinness insisted the audience was being given a bullet-point synopsis.

I summarise her summary thus: McGuinness’ late boyfriend, Ryan McHenry, was responsible, amongst other things, for a series of online video clips called ‘Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal’. McHenry would hold a spoon to the screen whilst Gosling, in a number of scenes from his back catalogue of motion pictures, would turn away, or grimace, or cover his mouth, and so on. McHenry was diagnosed with cancer in late 2013, and he was cared for by McGuinness until he died on 2nd May 2015. After his passing, Gosling sent his condolences, and notably posted a video of himself eating a bowl of cereal in tribute.

So she sang a song from the celebrated film La La Land, which starred Gosling, called ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’, and frankly, McGuinness’ rendering was both vocally and emotionally stronger than the version in the movie. Her set was not, however, wholly devoted to melancholy tunes. Indeed, it turned out to be far more celebratory than anything else in the show, with versions of ‘Shout’ by The Isley Brothers and ‘Take On Me’ by A-ha proving hits with the audience, the latter involving some inventive musicianship from musical director Dan Turek and guitarist Jonathan Kirwan.

The harmonies, sprinkled across the first half and then at both ends of the second, were beautiful – a real pleasure and delight to listen to. I thought it was all very well pitched for the size of the venue. I’m quite sure they could have given us hairdryer treatments of the musical numbers if they wanted to, but the softer approaches taken here suited the ambience perfectly. Like many smorgasbord shows of this nature, it ebbs and flows, dependent on personal preferences of certain genres and styles of music. Taken together, however, objectively speaking, the songs demonstrate remarkable versatility amongst the performers.

Dev Joshi livened up a relatively sedate first half with ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ from 9 to 5 The Musical, with the confidence and defiance the number requires. Stripped of its background narrative, there’s a wider meaning here than the song has in that show, and an emphasis on closing the door on clutter and negativity, wherever it may originate from. Ciara Power performed an intriguing number from ‘The Other Franklin’, which I’d never even heard of before. (Having looked it up later, I understand the show has never been produced, and according to its composer, Jeff Blumenkrantz, never will be, as the project was abandoned.)

Other highlights included a revised ‘Matchmaker’ from Fiddler on the Roof, in which Tinder, the online dating app that is a sort-of contemporary version of Yente from that musical, is introduced, and its effectiveness debated. ‘What Baking Can Do’ from the Broadway musical Waitress was sublime, and whetted my already strong appetite for a West End transfer of that show all the more. The whole point, really, is to further the cause of Carers UK whilst providing some high-quality entertainment. Both are accomplished magnificently in this fun and informative evening.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following sold-out shows, What Would Julie Do? Live returns to The Pheasantry for an evening of musical theatre therapy. Singer and Actress, Rosie Williamson has long been compared to Mary Poppins, but outward appearances can be deceiving: She is, like most of us, far from practically perfect in every way. Rosie often takes hypothetical advice from the guru of musical theatre perfection, the superstar, the legend that is…Dame Julie Andrews. Whenever she is in a stew, she asks: “What Would Julie Do?”

Cast and Creatives
Producer/Host: Rosie Williamson
Musical Director: Dan Turek


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