Here's how the Eurovision Song Contest rivals West End theatre

Discover how the Eurovision Song Contest is the greatest display of British theatre. The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Liverpool in May 2023.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

The Olivier Awards celebrate the best of the West End. The Tony Awards champion the big Broadway hits that could take over the world. But, any theatre lover can make all situations feel like an opening night, especially the Eurovision Song Contest.

For one evening a year, the Eurovision Song Contest offers pure, unadulterated joy to millions of viewers, uniting the continent through the medium of song. But, it’s not just the songs worth tuning in for, oh no. There’s crazy costumes, wacky dances and enough forced jokes lost in translation that make you cringe.

Did you know the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 will take place in the United Kingdom? Ahead of the UK Eurovision in 2023, here’s just some of the ways that the Eurovision Song Contest acts a shining example of live theatre. Be prepared.

One entry was actually called “Theater”

A song called “Theater” at Eurovision has to kick off this list. In 1980, Katja Ebstein represented Germany with her theatrical piece, all about clowns hiding their true feelings on stage. Obviously inspired by Cabaret, Ebstein was backed up by a quartet of mimes. This could easily be sung by the Emcee and nobody would know it’s a Eurovision original.

ABBA became famous with “Waterloo”

A Eurovision roundup without ABBA is an act of blasphemy. Before ABBA became a global sensation, they represented their home nation, Sweden, in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The double husband-and-wife group sung “Waterloo”, which is all about a woman who promises to love her partner. After winning the competition, “Waterloo” became a timeless hit played world over and is often regarded as the greatest Eurovision moments of all time.

The live performance is a work of art too. Just look at their conductor’s Napoleon-inspired outfit, proving that a kitsch outfit and a catchy track goes a long way.

An actual West End star represented the United Kingdom

You may know Lucie Jones from the West End production of Waitress and Wicked. But in 2017, she represented the United Kingdom with “Never Give Up On You”. Looking like a Grecian goddess, Jones gave a musical performance that would win Oliviers, but the tactical European televoting didn’t go Jones’ way. Now a musical about the voting at the Eurovision Song Contest would be great…

Andrew Lloyd Webber made his Eurovision debut

With a musical catalogue including The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and School of Rock, you’d expect Andrew Lloyd Webber to deliver the Eurovision goods at some point in his career.

In 2009, Jade Ewen (who’d go on to star in Aladdin) sung “It’s My Time” for the UK, with Lloyd Webber playing live. The musical touch clearly impressed voters though, placing fifth in the public vote. Maybe it says more about me than the song that the first thing I remember is her being hit by the violinist. Gaffes are theatre too.

Loreen’s “Euphoria” was euphoric

The Scandinavians are the Eurovision masters, fact. Just watch “Euphoria”, Sweden’s 2012 entry performed by Loreen popularised contemporary dance for a new generation, and tell me you don’t move to these while you’re listening. Now imagine this song as a 11 o’clock musical number when she’s joined by the mystery lover? We need a “Euphoria” musical about this pair now.

Conchita Wurst defied the odds with “Rise Like a Phoenix”

If Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Dreamgirls ever did a crossover, it would sound like this. Drag artist Conchita Wurst (whose name is inspired by terms for genitalia, which is theatre in itself) represented Austria in 2014 with their striking ballad, rising from the ashes to win the competition. Commanding the stage, Wurst gives a masterclass in holding the audience in the palm of your hand, with the fire rising as a final flourish.

This disco Ukrainian entry haunts my mind

It’s not The Phantom of the Opera inside my mind. It’s this. There are some things I will never understand, but will continue to appreciate as an art from. Ukraine’s 2007 entry is one of said things. Wearing an outfit that the Tin Man would be jealous of, drag queen Verka Serduchka sings in German, English and Ukrainian, just repeating the phrase “Let’s speak DANCE!”. Unbelievably, this came second in the contest. I told you there’s some things I just don’t understand.

We wanted to be adopted by Russian grandmas

Stunt acts in Eurovision are their own breed. Russia’s granny-act Buranovskiye Babushki proved you can start your stage career at any age and become global sensations overnight. Sung in English and the Russian language, Udmurt, the octogenarians bob around the stage and strangely, cook at the same time. Placing second in 2012, they really did bring the “Party for Everybody” in Baku. But maybe it was the promise of free food, and I would do a lot of things for free food.

Iceland took over TikTok

If your song goes viral before the contest, you’re pretty much guaranteed to do well. That’s what happened to Iceland’s 2020 entry, “Think About Things” by Daði og Gagnamagnið. Truly, everything about this song is musical theatre perfection, and if there was a Eurovision jukebox musical, this is the Act One finale.

The keytar interludes, the matching jumpers and the line dancing that took over the world. Even though “Think About Things” never got its glory days at the Eurovision Song Contest (thanks Covid), this will definitely go down as one of the greats.

Netta clucked like a chicken

Yes, you read that right. Netta does cluck like a chicken. But, Netta won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in 2018 with a girl-pop anthem that any independent woman could get behind. The set belongs in a play too, and we’re imagining the scene. A couple walk into a Chinese restaurant that’s bought a million lucky cats, but only one of them is a toy. This song plays on repeat. The couple can only leave once they’ve found the toy.

A puppet turkey represented Ireland

Sometimes, I like to imagine what it’d be like inside someone else’s brain. This extends to the creator behind Ireland’s 2008 entry, where a turkey puppet represented their country in a joke song that nobody really understood. It did make history as the first puppet though, so that’s something I guess?

Finland gave Hard Rock energy

No, these aren’t the white walkers from Game of Thrones. The Finns love heavy metal, so it was no surprise that they entered Lordi for the 2006 competition with “Hard Rock Hallelujah”. Sometimes, you can never tell who’ll win Eurovision, but the voting public tend to enjoy an act that’s never been seen before — and Lordi definitely ticked that box. Yes, it’s terrifying. No, you won’t look away.

This Swedish smorgasbord tried to be the Tony Awards

Anything the Tony Awards can do, Eurovision can do better, right? Well perhaps not. In between the contest and the results, the Swedish hosts summed up their nation in six minutes of musical theatre bliss. Any Broadway lover could spot the Tony references from a mile off, the only thing that could have made it more theatre would be Neil Patrick Harris jumping out off a cannon. Could that happen one year? We wouldn’t put it past him to turn up.

Remember when Madonna appeared?

I’m not really sure why Madonna chose the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest to promote her live tour. I don’t know why Madonna channelled The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m even more confused by the dancers wearing gas masks. I do believe that sometimes the most confusing performances are just as entertaining as the five star shows, so maybe that’s why I love this. Who knows really?

Graham Norton’s commentary is the cherry on top of the cake

It takes a special type of commentator to accurately provide coverage while deprecating every moment of the contest. Eurovision wouldn’t be the same without Graham Norton’s witty takes, illuminating all the theatre moments to us mere mortal who tune in. He even nods to the late Terry Wogan each year; a touch of class in a night of chaotic giddiness.

Photo credit: Lucie Jones in Wicked (Photo courtesy of production)

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