Review of Jest End at the Waterloo East Theatre
The Off-West End satirical treat Jest End is now in its ninth year of lampooning musical theatre talent, creatives and productions under the safe umbrella of 'loving homage'. Pitched as the London equivalent of Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini's highly successful Broadway spoof, the basic premise sees a small group of talented performers lovingly rip-off and vamp on popular debate within the musical theatre industry through a mad-cap spin of costumes, props and suggestive choreography.
Whilst its Broadway counterpart is more focused on delivering spot-on imitations of the talent, Jest End instead casts the net wider, aiming to ensnare the jokes that appeal to both the general theatregoer as well as the more seasoned West End Wendy. The skill of creating a fulfilling evening comes at programming and shaping a relevant, yet not too exclusive, evening of fun that manages to jibe its subjects carefully whilst toeing the line between bitchy and overtly derogatory. Juggling older numbers from shows that are sure to get a rise from a general audience as well as Easter eggs for hardcore fans is certainly a challenge and creator Gary Lake successfully crafts a non-stop gift of a show that continues to unpack its delights.
Vamps on celebrity casting rear their heads in shorter numbers which include a particularly sharp look at Sarah Harding's recent troubles in the U.K tour of Ghost along with a contemporary rap from Cameron Mackintosh himself about the spirit of diverse casting for the upcoming west end production of Hamilton. Whilst some of the older numbers such as The Lion King and Billy Elliot feel a little tired, there's a careful mix of insider jokes, from Tyrone Huntley's indirect scene stealing at the Open Air Theatre's summer production of Jesus Christ Superstar complete with a parody of Drew McOnie's unique style of choreography.
For this all to work it relies on a strong set of performances, and Lake's energetic group excel in committing fully to each parody and each displaying excellent vocal and comedic skill. Jemma Alexander flirts naturally with the audience with an expressive face and killer pipes, matched by Bronte Barbe's fantastic belt and effortless charm. The consistently solid Daniel Buckley gets to showcase his powerful tenor whilst rocking out to selections from Superstar and School of Rock, equally at ease when rapping in the show's second act opening ode to the cultural phenomenon that is Hamilton. Adam Bailey is superb and self-effacing but again gets to frequently showcase his strong musical theatre style and pitch-perfect range.
Lake shows strong satirical nous in many of his lyrics but these are occasionally swamped by the overly energetic choreography. Listen hard enough and you'll be rewarded with some clever rhymes and in-jokes that'll make you want to nudge the person next to you to prove that you're in the know. Often the parody falls too easily to smut which devalues the otherwise well-judged satire, and the visual humour sometimes overplays the heart of the show, that is the songs and the lyrics themselves.
It's a show that wears its staginess on its sleeve and keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek. A sharp and consistently well performed treat for West End musical fans and a welcome breath of comedic relief.