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BWW Review: THE BARN PRESENTS: THE MUSIC OF ANNABEL MUTALE REED, Barn Theatre OnlineLast night, the Barn Theatre presented their fifth virtual concert, which celebrated the work of musical theatre playwright, lyricist and director Annabel Mutale Reed. The concert was hosted by Barn Theatre producer Jamie Chapman Dixon, and was jam-packed with star guests.

Dixon interviewed Mutale Reed herself, and interwoven were performances of her work and guest speakers. The pioneering playwright, lyricist and director is known for the critically acclaimed musical STOP (with Leo Munby), musical collaborations with composer Jack Trzcinski, and directing the recent concert production of Zorro! The Musical at London's Cadogan Hall.

The concert series by the Barn Theatre is a fantastic initiative to showcase new British musical theatre writers. At one point, the West End felt dominated by Broadway transfers, but the hype of SIX has proven there is an abundance of homegrown talent right here.

It was astounding to see the body of work Mutale Reed has created, for someone so young, and I am hugely grateful to have been introduced to more of her beautiful music. All the artists gave exceptional performances, which they were all clearly and understandably very passionate about. Mutale Reed's music is heartfelt, relevant, raw, catchy, intelligent and important.

The cast was large and full of talented stars. Particularly stunning numbers were "Stop" performed by Leah St Luce (Mamma Mia!, Beautiful), and "You Matter Today" performed by Danielle Fiamanya (& Juliet, The Color Purple). I was extremely impressed with how the duet and quartet were seamlessly delivered by artists on separate screens. It was wonderful to see Mutale Reed herself perform her song "Survivor", created with Trzcinski.

The highlight of the night was seeing Tony Award-winning composer, librettist and record producer Claude-Michel Schönberg discuss his mentorship of Mutale Reed. It appears Schönberg is giving so much back to the UK musical theatre community, by supporting young writers of the future. It was clear that Schönberg genuinely believes in Mutale Reed and her future in this industry, and is proud to see her rise up in the world. Aspiring writers watching would have loved the great nuggets of wisdom he shared.

My only criticism is that the production value was quite poor: most were dressed very casually and filmed in different locations throughout their homes. I appreciate it would be very hard with a cast this large to have continuity in terms of backdrop, but a clean white wall, grey screen or super-imposed backdrop really goes a long way to heighten the production value of virtual concerts.

A casual and intimate setting could, of course, be a production choice, but with little outings available to us during this pandemic, it is always nice to see a little glamour on screen. The picture of a stage at the beginning and end was a nice touch, but more could have been done to create the atmosphere of a concert throughout.

Nevertheless, the groundbreaking music, charismatic guest speakers and enigmatic performers made for a very entertaining and heartwarming experience. The Barn Theatre should be hugely applauded for its work to celebrate homegrown writers whilst keeping their theatre's light on.

The concept of virtual concerts seems to be consistently rapidly developing and improving. I implore all those opting to produce their theatre online to do their research into the extent in which technology can aid, because when used at its best, it can hugely make up for the loss of live theatre during the pandemic.

You can donate to the Barn Theatre for their #SAVEOURBARN campaign HERE

The Barn Presents: The Music of Annabel Mutale Reed is available to watch on YouTube

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From This Author Bella Bevan