The Piano Works
The latest dining/ theatre experience to hit London is SingEasy, situated in the heart of the West End’s Theatreland. We sent our intrepid Gabriel along to sample not just the food, but the whole experience.
Hell is personal. Mine is people playing music out loud on the Tube. So, when I describe a musical theatre extravaganza in the basement of a popular piano club off Piccadilly Circus, you might have found yours. However, if you know the difference between Lea Michele and Idina Menzel…read on!
The rising price of theatre tickets and the physical chasm existing when you go (especially if you’re in the nosebleeds) means it’s easy to become jaded. The idea of food and theatrical frolics at your fingertips does sound appealing, doesn’t it? So instead of paying for dinner and a show why not combine the two? Why not indeed? And SingEasy offers exactly that in an underground, request-based singalong experience with dining.
Away from the pop-playing punters at the Piano Works above, screeching along to Sweet Home Alabama, we descend in the dedicated SingEasy lift towards something better, but only a little bit classier; a petite basement club plastered with musicals playbills. So far, so loud. Flashing red lights and rushing waitresses crowd the room and craft a rather frantic atmosphere. Lively may be a better word for it, but there’s a fine line between the two.
What follows is four hours (although we only managed three) of breathtaking vocals contrasted with utterly disappointing/overpriced food, and cheery almost scary American-style service. Cabaret and dinner theatre are the high end of the munch-while-you-music, so, I guess it’s only natural that these posher options would delineate down into the format taken at Theatre Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue and SingEasy.
The concept is tweaked a little here as we are encouraged to request songs only if they are from a musical (even jukebox is allowed). An iPad is on hand for ones the performers aren’t so sure of, and our ringmaster/MC Chris Bartlett-Walford lampoons whoever’s song choice it is, sprinkling some good old-fashioned British theatre humiliation into the red-flecked basement. What is launched this evening is the membership, that offers happy hours, free entry on Thursdays, and Q jump privileges, and *it’s completely free* (boomed in my best American infomercial voice).
Now, everyone can certainly sing. Viki Calver, Lee Ormsby, and James Doughty (separately) rattle expertly away at the piano, and every waitress/waiter grabs their moment in both hands, belting and wailing like a true West End diva. The issue arises from the surrounding add-ons, and the dull as ditchwater food surely doesn’t help. The sublime awkwardness flowering from asking someone who has just poured their heart out performing a trembling rendition of ‘On My Own’ (from Les Mis) for two more glasses of prosecco… I mean I’ll do it – I did it! – but it certainly felt wrong.
Snippiness aside, the singing is what you’re coming for, isn’t it? Or the desperate attempt to fill an evening with something more cultured than Netflix but less bank-breaking than the opera. On that score, the experience cannot be faulted. Highlights are our own waitress Ailsa Hutchison (who magnanimously scrounged us the last spring rolls in the building) blasting out Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’, and Ellie Watts embodying a soft, sweet Ariel with ‘Part of Your World’. From The Last Five Years to Hamilton, Grease to Mamma Mia, all tracks are covered with vocal confidence and knowingly skillful smiles. The performers leap into each other’s songs with seemingly impromptu harmonies and despite the frenetic jumps in mood, story, and time period look like they are having a jolly good time. One that is transferred (with the help of a couple too many glasses of prosecco) deep into the bones (or inner ears) of the sat-down spectators.
Yes, the drink glasses are plastic, and the cocktails are themed (‘On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink’ for example) yet sadly unenjoyable, but if you love musicals, you will love SingEasy. Bring the West End Wendy in your life and watch them sob quietly into their minuscule steak as ‘Let It Go’ swirls in the background. For a stop at overstimulation station, make sure you have the right ticket, because this train is hurtling all the way to the Emerald City and there’s no getting off. I mean would you want to?