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3rd June 2023

Live review: Samantha Barks at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Musical theatre icon Samantha Barks performed a superb solo concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane – where she usually plays Elsa in Frozen
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Live review: Samantha Barks at Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

Samantha Barks is one of the biggest stars on the West End right now. One of the biggest successes to come out of I’d Do Anything, Barks is perhaps the best-known Éponine, having played the iconic role in the West End production of Les Misérables, the 25th anniversary concert, and the film adaptation, for which she received a Satallite Award nomination. ‘On My Own’ has, thus, become her signature song, and she is perhaps the artist it is most associated with. Since then, Barks has starred in several original casts, including the original UK cast of Disney’s Frozen, where she plays Elsa.

Frozen is still growing strong at Theatre Royal Drury Lane though Barks is currently away from the show for she has been filming I Have a Dream in Corfu, which has a similar format to I’d Do Anything – except now Barks is a judge!

However, Barks has made a brief trip back to the UK to play a solo concert which was originally supposed to take place back in 2020 but was sadly cancelled, like many events that year. Poetically, Bark’s solo concert tour place at her second home, Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Like most musical theatre concerts, there was no opening act but rather two acts of similar length. Barks was accompanied by a beautiful band and backing singers and joined by three very special guests – West End star Bradley Jaden, Tony-nominated Broadway star Orfeh, and multi-platinum selling group The Overtones.

Jaden joined Barks for a duet in the first act whilst Orfeh, who starred alongside Barks in the original cast of Pretty Woman in the USA, was lucky enough to make appearances in both acts. The first act saw the ladies cover ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Chess whilst the second saw them cover Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer‘s ‘Enough is Enough’. Orfeh’s rich, roaring and soulful voice is one of the best I have ever heard.

Early on in the second act, Barks welcomed The Overtones, who she has been a fan of for years, onstage, before heading off. The Overtones got their own mini set which ended with a roaring rendition of Simply Red‘s ‘Stars’, which Barks joined them for.

Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

Barks offered renditions of a variety of musical theatre songs, mostly newer ones. She opened the show with ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana, telling us that she relates to the song, for she is from an island herself (the Isle of Man) and often dreamed of heading to the mainland. Much of the first act was a trip down memory lane, with Barks dedicating songs to different situations and people, including her grandmother, who is currently very unwell.

Barks sang several songs from her studio album, Into the Unknown, which is made up of covers of songs from new musicals. Alongside ‘How Far I’ll Go’, she sang ‘Never Enough’ from The Greatest Showman, ‘Reflection’ from Mulan (I previously saw the original singer, Lea Salonga, sing this live), and ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ from Mean Girls, which I had seen fellow musical diva Carrie Hope Fletcher cover just two days prior.

The main act ended with ‘On My Own’, and what a joy it was to see Barks perform that beautiful ballad live. When the music kicked in, a girl exclaimed, “Oh, my God,” but most of the audience did not recognise the song (I think the instrumental had been rearranged) until Barks began singing – then, everybody was beaming with joy.

Early on in the first act, Barks had mentioned Frozen and made sure to tell us that she is not going to sing ‘Let It Go’. I guess she did not want us to be waiting patiently for a song that never came. In the encore, she said, “I told you I wasn’t going to sing ‘Let It Go’, and I’m going to keep that promise,” before telling us that she could not end the night without acknowledging Elsa.

Whilst one might have expected her to sing the electrifying ‘Monster’, Elsa’s big second act number which was was written exclusively for the stage adaptation, she chose to sing ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen 2, which she covered for her album of the same name. After all, this concert is, in part, in support of that album. I’m still bitter that Panic! At The Disco did not sing the song at their farewell concert (they recorded the single version) so it was great to see Barks sing it live – though I would have preferred ‘Let It Go’. But I can appreciate she wanted to sing songs other than the ones she has to perform eight times a week – or maybe Frozen‘s producers do not have want her to perform that song away from the musical whilst she is still starring in it.

Barks looked as incredible as she sounded (apologies for my incredibly bad photography!). The first act saw her wear a gorgeous red gown, which her Pretty Woman co-star Orfeh told her looked like Vivien’s iconic ballgown (and my friend, Charlotte, compared it to Jodie Comer‘s Olivier Awards gown). The second act saw her wear a sexy green gown which proudly showed off her body (if you got it, flaunt it, right?).

All in all, this was a gorgeous, elegant evening of music and stories. Barks might not have the level of confidence and humour as some other musical theatre stars – such as Audra McDonald and Sierra Boggess, who regularly perform solo concerts and have been doing so for years – but she is thoroughly likeable, undeniably charming, and effortlessly funny.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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