After many years on foreign shores, local-boy-turned-West-End-star Daniel Koek returns to home soil with his long-awaited cabaret show, Bringing Him Home with his West End Story. If the two standing ovations are anything to go by, it’s quite a welcome return, too.
Daniel Koek has been hooked on musical theatre since seeing The Phantom of the Opera on the Festival Theatre stage as a child, and it shows. Koek leads the audience along his path from high school theatre nerd to West End leading man using anecdotes, photos, video, song, and some very questionable triangle playing. A seventy-minute autobiographic piece could very easily seem self-centred or conceited, but Koek’s humility and self-deprecating humour help him sidestep illusion of self-importance, as do his many tributes to his role models and supporters during the show. Although his anecdotes and patter occasionally border on stiff, Koek usually manages to loosen back up fairly quickly.
Aside from some initial technical difficulties that delayed the show, everything runs very smoothly and is clearly well-rehearsed – Koek, his Musical Director Greg Arrowsmith and the band are professionals through and through. Koek’s vocal performance is without fault; just as you would expect from a former West End ‘Jean Valjean’, his rich, classical tenor is smooth and precise, and perfectly suits his technically demanding song choices. Koek manages to stick to his strengths without making his set too static; while the bulk of the show draws on musical theatre classics such as West Side Story and Les Miserables, Koek peppers the show with offerings by Josh Groban, Billy Joel, and contemporary musical theatre writer Jason Robert-Brown.
The collection of (fairly embarrassing) amateur theatre snaps add a level of intimacy to the proceedings; if you didn’t know Koek at the beginning of the show, he feels like a childhood friend by the end. There were times, however, that the projections felt like overkill; photos from Koek’s run in West Side Story to accompany his performance of ‘Something’s Coming’ make sense, but a huge, projected, flickering candle during songs from The Phantom of the Opera feels a little tacky.
The projector was also used to air a promotional message from QANTAS, which was surprising and unsettling. Don’t we go to the theatre to avoid ad-breaks? Koek’s speech about his promotional relationship with the airline felt like more than enough consumerism for one show without a full-scale video to accompany it.
Aside from the awkward commercial segue, Daniel Koek’s show is a lovely thing to watch – his enthusiasm for theatre, for South Australia, and for the people he loves is tangible. Hopefully next time he treads the boards on the West End he doesn’t stay away for quite so long.
*Paige Mulholland is a volunteer at the Adelaide Festival Centre.