Willemijn Verkaik is fast becoming a staple of the musical theatre fandom. She has a powerhouse voice, oddball personality, and is somewhat of an anomaly, having performed as Wicked’s Elphaba in four different countries (in three different languages) and voiced both the Dutch and German Elsa in Disney’s blockbuster Frozen.
Originally from The Netherlands, Verkaik recently finished a stint in the tenth anniversary cast of London’s Wicked as well as performing as Kala in Disney’s musical Tarzan in Germany. Other credits include Paulina in Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Donna in Mamma Mia, Killer Queen in We Will Rock You and Amneris in Aida.
In a follow up to her critically acclaimed 2015 sold out solo concert at The Ambassadors Theatre, Willemijn returns with a celebration of iconic songs that have defined her career as well as some never before performed material.
It is very difficult to fault Verkaik’s voice from a technical perspective. She displays impressive vocal pyrotechnics. The size and quality of the voice that emanates from her is almost alarming. She slides up and down her range with ease. Her trademark belts and riffs have earned their stripes for good reason. Lower notes sound like deep pools of calm water.
However, the selection of songs that Verkaik has chosen is erratic. Whilst it does what it says on the tin – musical theatre classics, unknown material and more – there seems to be no consistency whatsoever. A false start by the Stage Box choir – after which the band come on, tune, and we wait for Verkaik – sets the tone for the evening: disparate, jangling and cobbled together. The evening is chock-a-block with medleys.
We are hit with song after song, without the musical courtesy of smooth swaps or clever turns. Verkaik loves George Michael, so performs a four song tribute – but there seems to be no sense in the order or tone of the songs. The Stage Box choir perform a particularly unfortunate Sondheim medley, the theme of which is just… Sondheim. There are some really lovely moments – an Alison Krauss number, So Small from the blissfully beautiful Dear Evan Hansen – where Verkaik finally and simply relies on her voice and nothing but it. No singing somersaults, no ecstatic and discordant arrangements – simply music and voice. Pure and perfect.
Verkaik is joined by some very exciting special guests – who are generally underused. The astounding Celinde Schoenmaker (currently Christine in the West End’s The Phantom of the Opera) gives a pin-drop solo performance of I Dreamed a Dream, although the song’s crescendo becomes white noise as the voices merge into a duet. Olivier award nominated Tyrone Huntley gives a wholly enjoyable performance in another duet, but not one that anywhere near matches his skill or ability.
A misguided Andrews Sisters melange of Glinda numbers with Suzie Mathers (Glinda alongside Verkaik in the 10th anniversary production, as well as the Australian and Asian versions) and Savannah Stevenson (Glinda, West End 2015-16 as well as Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia!) is interesting and enjoyable to start but becomes an endurance event. Verkaik also performs some of her own songs. These are sweet but ultimately not necessary, and nowhere near developed enough to stand beside Sondheim and Schwartz.
Verkaik is supported by a brilliant eight-piece live band. All perform exquisitely, with the backing singers also joining Verkaik centre stage for a song. Whilst the arrangements in general are pretty dizzying in their complexity and ‘characterfulness’, the cello and violin are particularly well used.
It’s interesting: a megafan will love this opportunity to see old tunes in new ways, but for the standard musical theatre aficionado – who wants to hear somewhat standardised signature Verkaik riffs and belts – some of the slurred, less jazz-handy performances will underwhelm. All in all, an enjoyable evening, but one best reserved for serious Verkaikers.