From supermarket to stage – world-class performances at Rothamsted Manor in Harpenden
- Credit: Sophie Banks
All those working in the theatre and live performance sector will breathe a sigh of relief following the Freedom Day announcement, and, whatever your views on the scrapping of all measures, most people will not begrudge them that relief.
There’s little doubt that the theatre industry has been unfairly treated.
World-class performers and creatives have had to completely give up their vocation and passion to stock shelves and deliver groceries for the past 18 months, while sports and many other aspects of normal life appear to have breezily gone ahead.
Luckily for us in Hertfordshire, some West End performers have flexed their singing muscles by appearing in a series of intimate summer concerts at the stunning venue of Rothamsted Manor by Steve Moss, musical director of Mary Poppins and previously of Les Misérables no less, who lives in Harpenden.
I went to see Laura Pick and Danny Whitehead, who have starred in the iconic musicals Wicked and Phantom of the Opera respectively, on a balmy evening last week, and it was pure magic.
I had almost forgotten how live music can touch you; how the most beautiful singing voices can move you to tears in an instant; how musical theatre can make you FEEL!
These stars – both of whom have worked for supermarkets for the past year – are up close (still safely distanced though) and personal.
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The intimacy of the surroundings and the grandeur of the manor (and interval drinks in the garden) adds the same sense of occasion as an old West End theatre.
But this is stripped back: no set; no orchestra. Just a supremely talented pianist, Spencer, and voices that you cannot believe are human, such are their purity.
Both artists gave us their full range with a variety of song genres.
Laura had me sobbing into my face mask as she flawlessly sang popular Les Mis solos such as I Dreamed a Dream (why has this incredible performer never been Fantine?!) as well as the modern musical favourite She Used to be Mine from Waitress.
I listened in open-jawed wonder as she smashed the impossibly difficult Defying Gravity from Wicked! in which she‘s soon to be reprising her role as the green witch Elphaba.
Danny took us back to the old school classics with some gorgeously executed Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.
Their duets were a highlight for me: even though, astonishingly, they’ve not sung with each other before these concerts, their voices were sublime together.
I’ve never heard a better version of Shallow from the movie A Star is Born, and A Little Drop of Rain had me reaching for the tissues once again.
Laura and Danny are both naturals with an audience; warm and likeable and very funny, and the audience interaction was chatty and seamless.
Their encore, a rendition of The Song That Goes Like This, from Spamalot, gave them a chance to show off their comedy chops, so we all left laughing and happy.
As, I hope, did they: the route out of the supermarket and back into the theatre is in sight.
Musicals at the Manor: Summer Concerts run until the end of July. Tickets from www.rothamstedenterprises.com/events