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We Need A Little Christmas Filmed at The Actors Church

Like many churches, St Paul’s Covent Garden is broadcasting their services on Zoom. The church is therefore decked out for the festive period, though I have no idea how much of the seasonal backdrops that can be seen during the show were brought in especially for this recording. The video quality here is on a par with other material on the Stream Theatre platform, and the finished product is a briskly-paced over-before-you-know-it affair, with Simon Callow CBE and Dame Maureen Lipman providing some spoken word in amongst all the songs. Callow’s near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the life and works of Charles Dickens allowed him to select something other than A Christmas Carol for a Dickens reading. Nineteen songs are squeezed in, plus some introductions from Denise Welch and Amy Hart (both known for their television work) – quite a feat for the 75-minute running time.

We Need A Little ChristmasThere aren’t too many church pieces in this concert (despite the setting), though Brenda Edwards (Chicago, We Will Rock You, Sister Act: The Musical) and Christine Allado (From Here To Eternity, Hamilton) gave sublime renderings of ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night’ respectively. Otherwise, the selection of tunes was broadly divided into the exuberant and the reflective. In the former, the West End Gospel Choir backed up Lee Mead (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wicked, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) in ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’, whilst Kevin Clifton (Dirty Dancing, Rock of Ages) rouses the spirits in ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’, which also gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his dancing prowess.

The broad range of songs gives the production a wide appeal overall. The Vivienne (Ru Paul’s Drag Race) is one of those drag queens that can sing, and sing brilliantly. Dom Hartley-Harris (Hamilton, Bat Out of Hell) almost blew the roof off the venue with his rendering of ‘Christmas Baby’, while Sally Ann Triplett (Follies, Cats, Mamma Mia!) with her grown-up children Max and Grace Milner put in an altogether more reflective and poignant performance, a cover of Coldplay’s ‘Christmas Lights’.

A double-bill from & Juliet stars Cassidy Janson and David Bedella provided the audience with the jaunty ‘Santa Baby’ and the more charming ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ – the lyric “if only in my dreams” being of particular relevance to many who will be unable to gather with family members in the way they usually would for Christmas in 2020. A few performances were recorded in actors’ homes, which is far enough, and there was even a music video to accompany Lee Mead’s new Christmas single ‘In My Arms For Christmas’.

Musical director George Carter plays the piano on a good number of the tunes – I can only assume there was some use of backing tracks as no other musicians were visible throughout. Other highlights include Sharon Rose’s (Caroline Or Change, Motown the Musical, Hamilton) take on ‘Mary, Did You Know?’, the music for which was written in 1991, though it’s been covered so often by so many that it feels like it’s been around for longer. I think the first time I came across ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ was when Sir Harry Secombe sang it decades ago on the BBC, his rich Welsh tenor voice impressively booming across the airwaves. Here, schoolboy Charlie Kristensen (known for the hashtag #CheerUpCharlie) gives it his all with his boy soprano voice. It’s beautiful, really.

Thoughtful and entertaining in equal measure, this production lifts the spirits of its viewers at the end of an extraordinarily difficult year.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Christmas variety concert
Denise Welch hosts a starry list of performers coming together for a filmed concert, We Need A Little Christmas, in support of Shelter and Crisis at Christmas. The concert will be filmed live at the Actors’ Church (St Paul’s Church) in London’s Covent Garden, with performances from Dame Maureen Lipman, Courtney Act, Christine Allado, David Bedella, Simon Callow, Kevin Clifton, Brenda Edwards, Sheila Ferguson, Amy Hart, Dom Hartley-Harris, Sophie Isaacs, Cassidy Janson, Lydia Lucy, Lee Mead, Peter Polycarpou, Jodie Prenger, Sharon Rose, Sally Ann Triplett and The Vivienne, along with Brian Conley and the cast of A Christmas Carol – The Musical and the West End Gospel Choir.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
We Need A Little Christmas
Available from 20 December 2020 to 1 January 2021
Tickets: £20 + booking fee for single ticket; £30 + booking fee for a family ticket
Box Office: Stream.theatre

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