Caring, Community and Cabarets in the West End

Beyond the most literal meaning of a group of people sharing a common interest, the word community means being part of something, belonging, and it’s that sense of belonging that I want to focus on here.

Fans, performers, writers, composers, directors…all of these people and more are part of a community – the common interest being musical theatre in this case – and referring to them as such couldn’t be more apt. In a community, every single individual is connected by a deep-running bond that leads them to support, care and look out for one another, and while the sailing isn’t always smooth, the journey together is still one you’ll want to take.

We recognise and celebrate the achievements of others and commiserate with them when things aren’t going the way expected. There’s also a shared respect there between every inner-group, from cast and creative to audience and critic, as we understand that each of us needs the other and are grateful to one another for being there. And perhaps most importantly, we will always come together to lend a helping hand in times of need.

That hand has been extended to many charities and causes over the years, with recent examples including MADTrust’s Late Night Cabaret Season with the casts of various West End shows, and the gala benefit concert, A Song For Syria, organised by West End actor John Jack in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. This past weekend, the annual charity concert Giggin4Good returned to The Actor’s Church in London with a line-up of musical theatre stars to once again raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital – following the 2015 event, Giggin4Good has now raised a total of £10,000 for the charity in the last four and a half years.

Sometimes misfortune hits a little closer to home though, and when it does, that sense of community can really be seen when the West End unites for one of their own. Who can forget when West End performers Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn produced the Dress Circle Benefit Gala at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2011 in an attempt to raise awareness and save the Covent Garden store from closure? A wide assortment of West End names performed that night in support of Dress Circle, including such stars as Rebecca Caine, Ramin Karimloo, Samantha Barks, Alex Gaumond, Alexia Khadime, Daniel Boys, and many, many more. Then there’s the now-annual event Les Mis V Phantom, in which cast members from each musical go head-to-head in a charity football match, often joined by special guest celebrities and professional footballers. The event also features live musical performances and other entertainment. It originated in 2012 in support of former Les Mis wig mistress Melanie Oakley-Dow, who was then battling cancer. She sadly passed away in December 2013, but the two shows continue to play every year in tribute to her memory, donating the proceeds from the event to a different charity each year.

Next month, the seasonal charity show A Merry Christmas Cabaret returns in its sixth year to play at the Hippodrome Casino, London for one night only. Created by Joel Marvin, the event features cast members from an assortment of West End musicals performing festive tunes in support of a chosen charity. Last year’s show was staged at the Delfont Room and included such stars as Eva Noblezada, Willemijn Verkaik and Celinde Schoenmaker, all performing in aid of the cancer charity Stand Up To Cancer. For 2015, it comes to the Hippodrome Casino, London on 1st December with Louise Dearman, Kieran Brown, George Ure, Sophie Linder-Lee, Chloe Hart, Michael Vinsen and Shona White already announced in the cast, and this year, is fundraising for the West End’s Louise Plowright.

Louise Plowright is the West End leading lady who originated the role of Tanya in the London production of Mamma Mia! and subsequently starred as Donna for over four years. While playing Madame Morrible in Wicked in 2013, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had to leave the show. She underwent major surgery, but her elder sister Rosalind recently revealed that the cancer had returned and that the family needed to raise £140,000 for treatment in Korea. The response has been amazing, and the West End community have really rallied round to help her achieve this goal. Aside from A Merry Christmas Cabaret which will be raising funds for Louise Plowright and Pancreatic Cancer Research, CRUK this year, pledges have been coming in thick and fast on the crowdfunding page set up by Rosalind, aided by social media pleas from many West End performers. Mamma Mia! and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres made an incredibly generous donation of £49,000, and with the added involvement of Wicked and the other West End theatres, the combined amount raised between them comes to a staggering £90,000. Now, thanks to the united efforts of the West End community, Louise will be able to receive her treatment.

This sense of caring and community in the West End is one of the things I love best about it. The people in our little community all give so much, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the stage or not because that helping hand reaching out? Each finger on it is representative of a branch of the theatre community, all joined by a common bond to that one palm and all reaching out together. We all belong to something wonderful, and I can think of no community I would rather be a part of.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 17th November 2015

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