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Roles We’ll Never Play at The Lyric Theatre | Review

There have been various attempts at ‘miscast’ concerts in London over the years, which generally aim to provide an alternative take on musical numbers. Roles We’ll Never Play has stayed the course, adapting to changing circumstances and audience demand. The series began at Union Theatre in Southwark, a 75-seater venue. The earliest concert listed on social media is dated 1 September 2019. A year later, the show went to the Turbine Theatre, or rather the jetty around the corner from it, with the audience sat on deckchairs and very much exposed to the elements. In between lockdowns, two concerts were held at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, and in May 2021 a further two concerts took place at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand. After a further concert on the jetty in August 2021, the latest edition was at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, a venue with a capacity in excess of 900.

Roles We’ll Never Play at The Lyric TheatreThe standards have always been high, although as it is now a West End production, audience expectations are justifiably elevated. The show, overall, delivers. Okay, it remains programme-less, and is therefore reliant on host Carl Mullaney announcing acts and musical numbers throughout the evening. It has a significant following, with recollections of previous concerts a mainstay of conversation amongst members of the audience before the show and at the interval. The spotlighting could have been better in places, and a ‘show stop’ was dealt with as deftly as it could have been.

There is an overarching theme for Roles We’ll Never Play – the clue is in the title, which is somewhat limiting, given, for instance, the gender-switching in the 2018 West End production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, and that Hamilton has had a black George Washington ever since it opened in the West End in 2017. I recall a ‘miscast’ concert some years ago in which an older woman dressed as a ballet dancer and started singing ‘Electricity’ from Billy Elliot. Later in that same performance a man sang ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie in such a deadpan manner the audience was in cahoots. No performance here was a send-up – I don’t think any of the numbers were primarily sung for laughs.

The riffs on Sejal Keshwala’s version of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables would, I have no doubt, have irritated those who insist songs should be sung as their composers had intended. Renée Lamb riffed all the more in the second half, in a reworking so radically different it’s a wonder it was still recognisable. Danielle Steers brought the house down with ‘Sweet Transvestite’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, while the ensemble – Kyle Birch, Joe Churms, Sebastian Harwood, Samara Rawlins, Hannah Willars and Ella Williams – got their own group number in the form of ‘Brand New You’ from the Jason Robert Brown musical 13.

Sophie Isaacs went for ‘Freeze Your Brain’ from Heathers: The Musical, a tune ordinarily performed by (you guessed it) a man. Sit in the front row at your own risk at shows of this nature, especially if you’re Nicholas Robinson, the Head of Ticketing at Nimax Theatres, who found himself saying a line in the song usually spoken by the actor playing the part of Veronica Sawyer. The current (at the time of writing) JD from Heathers, Jacob Fowler, chose ‘He’s My Boy’ from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Allie Daniel and Claudia Kariuki, who entered a relationship having met whilst doing a UK tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical together, nailed their colours to the mast in ‘I Will Never Leave You’ from Side Show – the only reason they would ‘never play’ Daisy and Violet Hilton is that the Hiltons were conjoined twins, and this pair simply don’t look alike. The most memorable performances, for me, all came at the end: Ryan and Kayla Carter, siblings, took on the roles of Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked, Idriss Kargbo gave a song and dance spectacular from Moulin Rouge! The Musical, and Natalie Paris closed the evening out with ‘You Will Be Found’ from Dear Evan Hansen.

As Mullaney pointed out, it takes a lot of work to re-orchestrate songs from their original keys to the ones in which the Roles We’ll Never Play cast sing showtunes in, and much credit therefore goes to musical director Flynn Sturgeon and his team for their efforts. Nothing came across as placing undue strain on anyone’s voices, and all things considered, this was a great evening for anyone open-minded enough to consider a so-called Malephaba or a woman ‘King of the World’. An opportunity to sit back and enjoy alternative narratives, this is an admirable and worthy project, and long may it continue.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Tom Duern presents, ROLES WE’LL NEVER PLAY for one performance only on Monday 7 March 2022 at the Lyric Theatre, London.

The cast includes:
Pearce Barron (he/him), Maisey Bawden (she/her), Luke Bayer (he/him), Danny Becker (he/him),Courtney Bowman (she/her), Lauren Byrne (she/her), Mary-Jean Caldwell (she/her), Kayla Carter (she/her), Ryan Carter (he/him), Allie Daniel (she/her), Tom Duern (he/him), Hiba Elchikhe (she/her), Jacob Fowler (he/him), Rebecca Gilliland (she/her), Ahmed Hamad (he/him), Isaac Hesketh (they/she/he), Sophie Isaacs (she/her), Idriss Kargbo (he/him), Claudia Kariuki (she/her), Sejal Keshwala (she/her), Lemuel Knights (he/him), Renée Lamb (she/her), Christian Maynard (he/him), Kayleigh McKnight (she/her), Carl Mullaney (he/him), Billy Luke Nevers (he/him), Genevieve Nicole (she/her), Eve Norris (she/her), Natalie May Paris (she/her), Lauren Soley (she/her), Danielle Steers (she/her), Madison Swan (she/her), May Tether (she/her), Joaquin Pedro Valdes (he/him) and Rodney Vubya (he/him)

They will be joined by a featured ensemble made up of Kyle Birch (he/him), Joe Churms (he/him), Sebastian Harwood (he/him), Samara Rawlins (she/her), Hannah Willars (she/her) and Ella Williams (she/her).

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