In a special concert put together by Nicole Raquel Dennis and Ryan Carter, Turn Up was live streamed over three nights putting black voices from across the West End, Broadway, activism and community leadership in the spotlight. The concert was recorded with a live band in an empty Cadagan Hall and also featured a collection of performances from home. As well as music, the concert also featured readings, speeches and poetry from prominent figures in the international black community resulting in a beautifully put together piece that was both important and celebratory.
The world is in a very strange and daunting place right now, with the Coronavirus pandemic at the forefront of everybody’s minds. But within this odd new ‘normal’ of face coverings and social distancing, the Black Lives Matter movement has started a revolution. Following the death of George Floyd in the US, protests and campaigns have been launched on a global scale, highlighting the importance of the movement and shining a vital light on the black community. We have had our eyes opened to the struggles of those who have been fighting all their lives and heard stories that have made us realise just what white privilege is. And this concert, whilst blowing us away with the powerful vocals of its cast members, has continued to tell these important stories.
The concert brings together a large cast of extremely talented black performers, from stage favourites including Cedric Neal (Motown, Chess, The View Upstairs), Sharon D.Clarke (Hairspray, We Will Rock You, Ghost, Caroline or Change), Norm Lewis (Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, Once on this Island), Trevor Dion Nicholas (Dreamgirls, Aladdin, Hamilton) and Melanie La Barrie (Wicked, Les Miserables, Mary Poppins, Matilda, &Juliet) to new talent in the class of 2020. There is so much power in this concert, with vocals that back you sit back in your seat and think wow and talent that you only wish you will be lucky enough to witness in the flesh one day. If it sounds that good through a screen, you can only imagine how good it must sound live.
When it comes to the song performances, I could go on and on about every one but I don’t want to ramble so I will just pick out a few highlights. I loved Tanisha Spring’s and Melanie La Barrie’s take on Cinderella’s Impossible/It’s Possible, joyful and delightfully cheeky, whilst Cedric Neal’s silky vocals breeze through Stevie Wonder’s ‘Love’s in Need of Love’. Claudia Kariuki and Danielle Steers are a powerful duo as they perform No More Tears/Enough is Enough’. It was a treat to see two black performers take on the roles of Glinda and Elphaba as Alexia Khadime and Brittney Johnson in a rendition of ‘For Good’ from different sides of the Atlantic and Jordan Shaw, Adrian Hansel and Shaq Taylor formed a beautiful trio in a gorgeous performance of ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.
I hope that casting directors from the upcoming live action remake of Hercules were watching this, as any of the ladies in this concert could easily play any of the muses.
A number of poems and readings were also performed throughout the evening, and whilst all were equally powerful and important, I have to praise Joe Allen Reid’s reading of ‘A Young Black Man’ and Annabel Mutule Reed’s reading of ‘Skin’. These poems and readings were cleverly slotted in between music performances, reminding us that we were not only there to be entertained, but also to be educated. As a young white women, I feel that I understand my privilege, but these readings still made me sit back and think. Whilst I can never fully understand what people of colour go through, I feel that I can stand with them and these readings were so poignant that they helped me to further understand what black people have to deal with and appreciate their strength in continuing the fight. The concert was also raising funds for four very worthy causes, The Bail Project, The Okra Project, The Black Curriculum and UK Black Pride, and learning about these charities was also eye opening.
Overall, Turn Up was not only a hugely entertaining evening packed full of incredible vocals and powerhouse performances, but a critically important concert also. By providing a platform to black performers, and allowing them to shine so brightly, viewers like myself had their eyes opened not only to their undeniable talent but also to the struggles that they face just because of the colour of their skin. In these turbulent times, this concert was oh so needed and oh so important, and I can only thank Nicole Raquel Dennis and Ryan Carter for putting it all together, along with Club 11 and for reminding us to say their names.