West End Producer might be the most elusive character in showbiz. His identity has remained a tightly kept secret, covered by his trademark plastic face mask, velvet jacket and fetching cravat, yet his brand is unmistakable.
On his first foray in front of the curtain at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, West End Producer unveils his brand-new project – Free Willy: The Musical – and invites his audience to audition for their own role in the production.
The en-masse audition format works incredibly well for the hour-long slot, providing the momentum to keep the production in the right direction but also allowing the ridiculous structure of the audition process to be sent up.
Unlike other shows at the Fringe, the audience interaction is never forced and awkward moments are non-existent, so there’s no need to burrow into your seat and avoid eye contact.
Far from being exclusive to those in the biz we call show, the whole event is made just as enjoyable for the theatrically uninitiated – though a brief background of Sondheim might help to coax the laughs from some excellent puns.
As he takes his audience through the ‘audition’ process, West End Producer seems increasingly convinced that Free Willy: The Musical has the legs to stand up against the greats – Les Mis, Phantom and Cats. He’s not misguided either – the original tunes are pretty damn catchy.
It’s never quite clear if the character of West End Producer is a genius comedy invention or a genuine disguised impresario; his luvvie chat is extraordinarily crafted and quick quips – which have gained him over 60,000 Twitter followers – really are inspired.
His use of a double entendre is not just reserved for his (Free) Willy, but extends to insider secrets of how Michael Ball hits those high notes – and he also discloses the much-sought-after knack of delivering the perfect jazz hand. That’s pretty much worth the admission price alone.
Each day, West End Producer brings on a new guest to audition for the starring role of his Willy (…yes, there is plenty of this throughout!). Jenny Bede was the special guest for 4 August, who had great fun with the slot and certainly won round some audience members for her own Fringe show.
The early scheduling of the show means that his audience probably isn’t quite as receptive to the content as is deserved – there are some really brilliant moments which would go down a storm a little later in the day when a few more glasses of Dom Perignon have been polished off. Luckily, from 12 August, the show is scheduled for a later time of 16:40.
For those seeking a little West End reprieve from the mixed bag on offer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this is a certified winner.
It’s pretty important that showbiz can look itself in the eye and have a laugh, which is exactly what West End Producer’s show is all about. What better way to celebrate the theatre than a larger-than-life audition with a larger-than-life producer!
West End Producer – Free Willy at Assembly Studios until 5 August, then at Assembly Checkpoint 12-26 August