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21st Annual WhatsOnStage Awards live-streamed from The Turbine Theatre

This was, frankly, mostly a concert with the actual ‘awards’ something of an afterthought: sixteen of the twenty-one winners, or ‘Angels’, were rattled off in less than a minute. Many of the names were recognisable to people in the industry, but nothing else was said about them, or why they were nominated, which frankly felt frustrating and underwhelming, and a missed opportunity to celebrate every winner equally. As ever, the WhatsOnStage Awards featured a large number of musical performances – extracts from plays have never been a feature, though it was nice to see musical productions from outside the London bubble featured.

Cedric Neal. Credit Danny Kaan.
Cedric Neal. Credit Danny Kaan.

Cedric Neal gave a stirring rendition of ‘Gotta Start Somewhere’ from Back To The Future The Musical, whose run at the Manchester Opera House was truncated due to the pandemic. Another Manchester show, the Hope Mill Theatre’s production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, only performed a handful of performances to a live audience before the November 2020 lockdown hit. Here, Dom Hartley-Harris and Alex Thomas-Smith treated the audience to ‘I’ll Cover You’ from that show. Emma Kingston put in a unique interpretation of ‘We Can Do Better Than That’ from the Jason Robert Brown musical The Last Five Years, a production of which took place at the outdoor Minack Theatre, on the Cornish coast between Land’s End and Penzance.

Jamie Muscato sang ‘Something’s Coming’ from the Curve Theatre Leicester production of West Side Story, and the lyrics seemed particularly stirring as the live entertainment industry waits to reopen: “Something’s coming, something good, if I can wait / Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is / But it is gonna be great”. West End contributions included ‘When You Believe’ sung by The Prince of Egypt’s Alexia Khadime and Christine Allado, and later, ‘Only You, Lonely You’ from the forthcoming production of Cinderella, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Emerald Fennell (book) and David Zippel (lyrics).

It’s all slickly edited (and therefore ran much smoother than the WhatsOnStage Awards do in their usual format, in which mishaps and even stage stops add an extra special layer of intrigue to proceedings. Given the emphasis of the WhatsOnStage Awards over the years on audience choice (ordinarily the nominations are drawn from public online submissions, and the awards decided by online public ballot), I make no apology for placing more emphasis than the proceedings themselves did on some of this year’s winners.

Jessica Boshier’s alter ego, Rita Zeta-Jones, has a YouTube channel called Round To Rita’s, comprising light-hearted videos firmly in the realm of musical theatre comedy. There have also been Instagram singalong events. Alex Young started an online weekly play reading group called The Corona Days Plays, which regularly has in excess of a hundred members of the theatre community who come together to socialise. Neither press nor public are invited, which means participants are able to relax and enjoy their time together without scrutiny. Lucie Devine, who styles herself as a freelance theatre usherette, has been hosting a weekly event on Facebook called ‘Broadway Bingo’, which regular viewers can’t get enough of.

Charlie Kristensen, an anti-bullying ambassador from Wokingham, Berkshire, continues his #CheerUpCharlie initiative, passing forward the support he received for being bullied at school to others, often in the form of interviews with leading industry figures. He also has an ongoing partnership with lyricist Mark Petty (of Anderson and Petty fame) and ‘The Crazy Coqs Presents’ series of musical theatre concerts.

Steph Channing, a customer experience manager at Sainsbury’s, offered temporary work to dozens of theatre industry performers and creatives. Andrea Gray worked with Curve Theatre Leicester, helping with sponsorship of The Color Purple in Concert at Home, for which free tickets to performances were given to young people and others who otherwise would not have been able to afford the full ticket price of the streamed production. Scarlett Maltman, a Scottish actor, is a co-founder of Industry Minds, an arts mental health support platform and award-winning podcast. She also worked at the ExCeL Centre last year when it was transformed into NHS Nightingale Hospital London.

Leontine Hass is the principal of Associated Studios, a drama school in West London which also has operations in Melbourne. Charlie Morrison is the founder of the West End Musical Choir. Dane Chalfin is a vocal rehabilitation specialist and a singing teacher. Philip Joel, a choreographer, did a series of short online videos during the pandemic which mushroomed into an online series called The Forest Fosse Ballet. Elaine and Graeme Blackmore head up Whole Lotta Comedy, a comedy club that now also boasts a podcast.

Corrine Priest, who made her West End debut in between lockdowns in the Cameron Mackintosh concert production of Les Misérables, uploaded a series of musical theatre videos called Sid, using the same video filter each time for comic effect. It became so popular that William Whelton, co-founder of Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, requested a Rent episode: Priest happily obliged. Later in the pandemic, the industry rallied around Priest after she was stalked, harassed and verbally abused whilst walking home in broad daylight.

Together with the other ‘Angels’, David Ashford, Lynn Darcy, Amanda Dunford, Denis Fuller, Kate Golledge, Yvette McDonald, Alun and Esther Williams, and Kristie Winsen, all will receive free tickets to a theatre performance (presumably of their choice) once live shows are able to return.

Chris Omaweng

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As a reflection of our times, 21st Annual WhatsOnStage Awards were not only live-streamed from The Turbine Theatre this evening, but, in this unique ceremony, a select group were honoured as Angels, following nominations from the public.

The full list of Angels

  • David Ashford
    A true theatre angel who has invested in new shows to get them off the ground (and then buying tickets) as well as sponsoring 2020 graduates to enable them to finish their studies.
  • Elaine and Graeme Blackmore
    Set up a free community online stand-up event (Whole Lotta Comedy) in their local area to bring people together and keep them entertained during the pandemic.
  • Dane Chalfin
    A voice coach who set up online six-week courses for West End and touring professionals during the pandemic as a lifeline for out of work performers, one of whom described them as a “life-raft during these dark times”.
  • Steph Channing
    As a Customer Experience Manager for Sainsbury’s in Sydenham, she reached out via Twitter to the theatre community and offered temporary work, employing over 100 theatre workers at their most desperate time when all of their income dried up overnight.
  • Lynn Darcy
    An amazing midwife nominated for her kindness and compassion by the mother she assisted when her daughter was sadly born sleeping.
  • Lucie Devine
    During the first lockdown, Lucie created Broadway Bingo – a free online event designed to bring the musical theatre crowd together and raise money for various charities too.
  • Amanda Dunford
    Nominated by her husband for her dedication to her family, friends and students during the pandemic – always happy to go the extra mile to help others.
  • Denis Fuller
    Denis is 62 and has been the premises manager of an Am Dram company for over 30 years. Despite being high-risk himself, he and his wife have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep the society going, checking in with members (especially those that live alone) and making sure that everyone is OK.
  • Kate Golledge
    Kate created an online group for emerging directors in Lockdown One to learn from each other and chat to one another, and 12 months on they are still together. It was said of her “she is extremely generous with her time and mentorship”.
  • Andrea Gray
    During the pandemic, Andrea has continued to champion the work of Curve in Leicester through sponsorship. This enabled the theatre to engage three Community Ambassadors to provide free tickets to ethnically diverse and working-class individuals and groups who had never attended a Curve production before.
  • Leontine Hass
    Leontine has helped her performing arts students by providing online learning and industry talks and put together a Kander & Ebb revue cast recording to keep them engaged and connected during the pandemic.
  • Philip Joel
    Despite his own struggles during the pandemic, Philip has kept the whole theatre community laughing and raised spirits, always available for a one-to-one chat and advice to help performers struggling to cope.
  • Charlie Kristensen
    Charlie has been described as a ray of light for his anti-bullying campaign “Cheer Up Charlie” which aims to raise awareness and give people the support and confidence to deal with bullying in their lives, particularly young people who are mocked for their musical theatre dreams.
  • Yvette McDonald
    Throughout the pandemic Yvette organised Fizz & Quiz nights, sessions focused on self-care, resilience and well-being, cake-baking masterclasses and even an online Carol service. One of her nominators said, “These events have helped me to relax, laugh and even learn a new skill”.
  • Scarlett Maltman
    Scarlett is an NHS Nightingale volunteer who organised affordable counselling for hundreds of performers during the pandemic who needed help and support to cope with the loss of work, income and confidence.
  • Charlie Morrison
    Charlie is the founder of the West End Musical Choir and when COVID hit she made sure that the choir kept singing all year by moving rehearsals online and keeping everyone connected during lockdown which provided much-needed sanity for many, especially those living alone.
  • Corrine Priest
    Despite suffering abuse and harassment herself in a London tube station, Corrine has been a beacon of light during the pandemic with her uplifting and refreshing posts on social media urging everyone to stay strong and positive.
  • Alun and Esther Williams
    Alun and Esther from Future Automation in Bedford have been described as the “most supportive, loyal and generous theatre-goers imaginable”. When no public funding was forthcoming they made a very generous donation to their local theatre with the promise of more if needed.
  • Kristie Winsen
    Kristie has created a monthly at-home musical theatre concert that is broadcast over Zoom called “Uplift” with the aim of showcasing uplifting showtunes performed by singers all over the world. Despite the work and expense of putting these concerts together they have always been free enabling as many people as possible to enjoy them.
  • Alex Young
    Alex set up the Corona Day Plays Theatre Company where anyone can join and take part in a fun reading of a different script each week. The group has grown from around 20 people at the beginning to over 300 helping people to make new friends, stay connected and have some fun!
  • Rita Zeta-Jones (aka Jessica Boshier)
    Described by one nominator as “hands down, my favourite London night in” Round to Rita’s became the weekly highlight for many people during Lockdown for her singalong musicals and cabarets on Instagram Live keeping people entertained and their spirits up.

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