There have been many public votes which have proved controversial – Brexit. The American presidency. Will Young vs. Gareth Gates, lest we forget. Thankfully, the WhatsOnStage Awards 2019 provided yet another fantastic evening of embracing the general public’s opinion in having their say on the best of on and off-West End and regional UK theatre.

The night was a star-studded affair – LuPone, Redgrave, Tucker, Grandage. But on the night, dare I say it, ‘a star (was) born’ in the turn of drag queen Vicky Vox as co-host for the awards alongside Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, currently starring in Tina. Whilst Kobna was consistently slick throughout the evening both in his shoe choices and ease with the audience, it was Vox who was comedy gold throughout the evening with rapid timing and fiery interaction with the crowd, including shouting at a woman for filming the entirety of Carrie Hope-Fletcher’s speech. A beverage or two may have been the cause, but her entertainment value went through the Prince of Wales’ roof.

A variety of topics were raised in front of the industry crowd; the importance of safe spaces in theatre brought up by Leading Actor winner Jamael Westman, public funding within all the performing arts as mentioned by Equity Award for Services to Theatre winner Michael Grandage, as well as genuine appreciation from Marianne Elliott and Vanessa Redgrave for winning their categories as voted for by theatregoers. It was Elliott’s first ever award voted by the public.

Performance highlights included a 20th anniversary celebration to The Lion King, brilliant choreography from the Hope Mill Theatre’s Spring Awakening as well as Rachel Tucker’s ‘Me and the Sky’ from Come From Away in which she’s bound for a nomination at next year’s awards. However, the surprise of the night came from a rendition of A Star Is Born’s ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. Usually, these sort of tribute performances can prove the same old. However, when sung by a quartet of female powerhouses – Marisha Wallace, Danielle Steers, Laura Tebbutt, Mazz Murray – it’s as if you heard the song for the first time. Spectacular.

All in all, a lavish way to spend a Sunday evening and a reminder of the overall tremendous work over the past year. Roll on to the awards’ 20th anniversary next year.

Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly


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