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Sharon D Clarke's affirming online cabaret soars


BWW Review: TONIGHT AT THE LONDON COLISEUM: SHARON D. CLARKE, London Coliseum Few performers in the industry are on top of their game like Sharon D Clarke right now. After storming performances in Caroline, or Change and Blues in the Night in London, Clarke was in rehearsals for the former show on Broadway when COVID-19 hit. From the London Coliseum, she now opens a series of online cabarets, Tonight at the London Coliseum, with brio and passion.

Clarke begins by stepping defiantly onto the darkened stage wearing a 'The Show Must Go On' mask before going on to perform a self-professed "eclectic mix" of songs chosen because she loves to sing them and because they comment on the world we live in today. This glorious 50 minutes of concert goodness prove a perfect tonic for the soul.

Opening with "Live in the Light", she proclaims "I'll be your sanctuary", introducing the opening theme of the first songs of this concert: the arts and theatre as being restorative and a space in which we can find healing. Frankly, it's something we're all in need of, and who better than Clarke to remind us of it?

Because of the editing and camerawork, it's easy to forget the digital remove occurring between singer and audience. Performing mostly with her back to an empty London Coliseum ("I am so excited to be here, but there's nobody here"), Clarke fully invites the digital audience into the room.

Clarke dedicates "Don't Quit" to everyone going through something, which, as she explains, is all of us right now. The focus of these songs is not necessarily COVID, but the individual challenges we all face in whatever form they take. Other songs, such as Oleta Adams' "I've Got To Sing My Song", "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray (Clarke warmly recalls how her wife Susie McKenna called her at 4am after seeing the show on Broadway), and Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All" encourage us to keep going.

As such, the sixth song in this set is "I Will Survive", and whilst Clarke is superb in it, the number goes to Mark Dickman's defiant and energetic piano accompaniment. Dickman is also perfect throughout the concert. Such was the affirming energy of this song that I needed a sit down afterwards.

Other songs included "Goldfinger", "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Some Say Love". "Natural Woman" came with the invitation for the audience to sing along at home (reader, I did - when Sharon D Clarke asks you to do something, you do it), and the show concludes with the riotous "River Deep, Mountain High" - only for Clarke to then issue a quiet and humble "thank you".

I interviewed Clarke when she was starring in The Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre, and during that chat, we spoke about her desire to do a concert in the Royal Albert Hall. Whilst this is not perhaps quite what she expected, from the London Coliseum Clarke reminds us (again) of not only her seminal position in the industry but also of the power of the arts.

At one point, Clarke recalls how frequently she is mistaken for other people - sometimes a Hackney social worker, other times Whoopi Goldberg. On being mistaken for singer Caron Wheeler, Clarke observes "I am not she, I am me" - and we should be thankful just for that.

Tonight at the London Coliseum is a series of online concerts with various West End stars. Sharon D Clarke's concert was on 18 September.

Photograph credit: Danny Kaan.

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From This Author Anthony Walker-Cook