Online concerts, particularly the pre-recorded variety, have become increasing popular for both producers and audiences over the last few months. It’s not surprising, they are a relatively Covid-secure way of giving musical theatre fans a taste of what we’re all missing. With The Secret Society of Leading Ladies, Ryan Carter, with a debut project since joining the Barn Theatre, has stepped the concept up a notch, with an interactive element that allows the audience to shape their own bespoke concert.
In a Bandersnatch-esque style, the audience are presented with options before each song. It’s up to you to choose the musical theatre character that will appear next, and characters from different musicals can share the same space, conversing with each other before taking to the stage. There’s a thin storyline running through it that doesn’t go any deeper than tying one performance to the next, but it’s all very simple to navigate and the platform runs smoothly.
I kicked off with Jarnéia Richard-Noel as Becky from Waitress, who then ‘joined’ me to watch Kayla Carter as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and so it continued until I had curated my own little secret society of leading ladies. With a total of fourteen performers, including the likes of Aisha Jawando, Aoife Clesham and Lauren Byrne, there is no shortage of powerhouse performances, and they all sound incredible under the musical supervision of Leo Munby.
There are two ticket options, and those choosing the single view might find themselves a touch disappointed. A single concert features five performances plus the finale, and runs at just thirty minutes (including a two-minute interval), meaning you’re only just getting in to the swing of building your society when the curtain has to come down.
A multi-view ticket is required to see more, and although there are 150 possible combinations, it only takes three full views to see every performer. The only downside to this is that it’s the same story and finale each time, so by the time you’re on the third watch the novelty has rather lost its appeal.
On the first watch though, getting to choose your own line-up is quite exciting, and it’s certainly very impressive that characters who join later in your show refer to earlier performances. It absolutely raises the bar for online concerts and makes The Secret Society of Leading Ladies a unique theatrical event.
Also notable for this concert is the emphasis given to less well-known musicals or leading ladies. I started off with probably the two best known characters of the lot, but then I was able to experiment and listen to songs that I would rarely listen to otherwise. None of the musicals featured would currently be running in the West End (if theatres were open), and audiences, perhaps unfamiliar with Steel Pier for example, will get to experience the delights of Shelby (Jocasta Almgill) singing one of the more rambunctious numbers from that score.
From Ghost to Anastasia, powerful performances from a good variety of musical theatre, and musical theatre stars, make The Secret Society of Leading Ladies stand out from the crowded space of online concerts. The interactivity is definitely a lot of fun the first couple of times, but fans attempting to watch as many of the 150 combinations as possible could eventually tire of it. However, this is a much-needed departure from a standard format, and bodes well for future output from The Barn Theatre’s newest creative.
The Secret Society of Leading Ladies streams from The Barn Theatre 22 February – 7 March.