Views from the Stalls and Views from the Sofa - My reviews and thoughts on all things theatre and television. Follow me on Twitter @LikeTheMonth_

Friday, 6 May 2011

Kerry Ellis & Brian May - 'Anthems The Tour', The Sage, Gateshead - Review

The Sage, Gateshead  -  5th May 2011

West End singing sensation Kerry Ellis and legendary Queen guitarist, Brian May, brought their combined talents to a sell-out audience at The Sage, Gateshead this week in their touring version of hit album ‘Anthems’. 
It may seem an odd combination, a musical theatre star with a member of one of the biggest bands in the world, however they have a long history of collaboration, beginning when May picked Ellis to star in his new West End musical, ‘We Will Rock You’.   Fast forward nine years and Ellis has a large fanbase of her own following her starring role in the musical ‘Wicked’ in the West End and on Broadway. 
If you have made your way to read this however, chances are you know all this already, and what you really want to know is how their ‘Anthems’ CD translates to the stage.  The answer is, of course, brilliantly.   
Ellis and May, along with an excellent live band, perform almost all of the CD tracks (the only omission I noticed was ‘You Have To Be There’, unless I had a complete black out for three minutes!) with added Queen classics, ‘Somebody To Love’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’. 
Kerry's theatre background shone through as she acted many songs, the emotional intensity in her rendition of ‘No-one But You’ was probably my personal highlight, heralding an impromptu standing ovation and though some remained seated, a quick glance around indicated it was because they were too busy drying their eyes!  

After the big rock numbers, an acoustic section provided an interesting change of pace, peeling back the layers to just a voice and a guitar and some audience participation, which was by far the most tuneful I’ve ever heard and sounded quite lovely as the voices reverberated around the auditorium. 
On this night I felt there were perhaps more Queen fans in than Kerry fans however I am sure she will be winning more admirers at every venue they visit.  The show does a good job of balancing the interests of both the theatre fans and the Queen fans; as a fan of the former I would naturally have loved more theatre tracks ('Anthems' and of course 'Defying Gravity' were other highlights) but it is impossible to complain when the Queen tracks are so universally crowd-pleasing.  Turning and seeing the entire audience on their feet, arms waving and singing along to ‘We Are The Champions’ was quite a spectacular sight and I’m sure was even more so for the performers. 
I distinctly remember the first time I heard Kerry Ellis; it was her performance of ‘The Wizard & I’ from Wicked on ITV’s Loose Women which I am sure is familiar to many of you reading (and I know, still a bit late to the party!).  I loved the character of Elphaba and of course that fantastic voice, but I was also struck by how surprised she seemed to be by the rapturous audience reaction.  It was very endearing and despite all the acclaim that has come her way since, watching ‘Anthems’ I still got the impression that Miss Ellis doesn’t quite realise how good she is.  She occasionally seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the reactions she received and it remains as endearing as ever. 
It was wonderful to see Kerry Ellis the person, dancing across the stage and truly having fun, as herself, rather than a character.  Her voice is incredibly powerful and she has wonderful control, effortlessly hitting notes most singers would never even attempt. Ellis has a real stage chemistry with Brian May, and they form a great partnership, both commanding the stage and knowing every riff and beat of the music. 
With the whole audience on their feet regardless of whether people had attended primarily for Ellis or May, everyone was united in their praise by the end of the show and left on a high, ears possibly ringing slightly, but having certainly had a great time!  How welcome it was also to have the opportunity to see the show at The Sage, for us Northerners that struggle to get to London as often as we would like.  ‘Anthems’ is a fantastic opportunity to see two unique talents sharing the stage and should the tour be coming to a town near you, I recommend going along!    

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