Beyond the Barricade

Why pay a bomb for west-end tickets when you can see all the best songs in one evening?

Venue: York Opera House
Run: 2nd December 2011
Rating: ****

This musical show is the brainchild of Andy Reiss and David Fawcett, both veteran performers of Les Miserables. The pair are joined onstage by Rebecca Vere Katie Leeming, also very experienced in the world of musical theatre. The foursome reproduce a few favourite numbers, as well as a couple of less well-known songs, from a range of hit musicals including The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Blood Brothers, and of course Les Miserables. Formed in 1999, the show is now in its twelfth year, and has proven to be very successful.

I have to admit, I sort of have a problem with the concept of Beyond the Barricade. It seems to me that anyone who loves musicals like Reiss and Fawcett do should see that when you divorce the music from the theatre, there’s a fundamental concern; if audiences don’t like it, the problem is simple enough- but if they do like it, it raises questions about the purpose of musical theatre. If the music’s just as entertaining without the acting, why ever go to the trouble of acting?

I was further distanced by the opening numbers, taken from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. I’ve never seen the musical, but I’ve always imagined it to be very light, and so it didn’t really have enough substance to draw me into the performance. The second choice however drew selections from the immortal ‘Phantom of the Opera’; that was when the show really began for me, leaving me happily toe-tapping along, but wondering who would ever prioritize ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ over the Phantom.

This is the Christmas show, and so the stage is festively decorated with four silver Christmas trees; these catch the multi-coloured lights so well that it seems the musicians are performing out of a Quality Street advert- which is no bad thing. I found the performance, as a whole, to be somewhat like a box of Quality Street, in fact: there were numbers which I liked, and ones which I didn’t, and the best ones were saved for last.

Rebecca Vere undoubtedly has a very impressive vocal talent, but her rendition of ‘The Christmas Song’ (you know the one: though it’s been said, many times, many ways… etc.) is so sweet that it’s sickly. Some of the songs, if you don’t know the shows, sag a little bit, and there is a sense that these more ‘flavourless’ (to keep up the metaphor) numbers are only supported by the inherent drama of the real players: The Phantom and Les Miserables.

On the whole, though, it’s a pretty sweet package- and there will be something for everyone. It’s easy to see why Fawcett returned so many times to the role of Jean Valjean- his ‘Bring Him Home’ is stunning. He also proves to be the avuncular host of the evening, sharing a few jokes with the audience between songs and definitely providing the friendly face of the group. I found that the performance was inevitably dramatised to some extent by the onstage dialogue- which palliated the innate problem which I mentioned initially. It was nice to see those moments of interaction, because it’s so clear that the foursome love what they do; if anything, I’d like to see more of that.

Beyond the Barricade has been heavily praised over the years, and is almost running to the length of a west-end musical itself. It’s stood the test of time, however, and I would say that my concerns about the form and the organisation only serve to highlight the fact that these four people are onstage because, ultimately, they are amazing vocalists. They are simply incredible, and there are productions of musicals which have achieved success with half the talent that these four bring. As Fawcett points out, it’s got to be good value: why pay a bomb for west-end tickets when you can see all the best songs in one evening? You know it makes sense.

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