So much song, dance and laughter from consummate showman Anton Du Beke and friends

United KingdomUnited Kingdom An Evening with Anton Du Beke and Friends: Anton Du Beke, Lance Ellington (vocalist), dancers and musicians. Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, 20.11.2023. (JPr)

Lance Ellington and Anton Du Beke

Producers – Paul and Elizabeth Irving
Director/Choreographer – Anton Du Beke
Choreographer – Elizabeth Honan
Sound design – Pete Austin
Lighting design – Jose Lorenzo
Costume supervisor – Laura Bos

Dancers – Kelly Chow (Dance Captain), Ellie O’Gorman, Megan Speirs, Rosie Ward

Musicians – Clive Dunstall (MD and piano), Sam Burgess (bass), Pete Callard (guitar), Andy Greenwood (trumpet), Pat Hartley (trombone), Howard McGill (saxophone/flute), Irini Pericleous (violin), Mike Smith (drums)

When entering the auditorium of the Cliffs Pavilion we see large illuminated letters on the stage which leave us in no doubt about who we are there to see – ANTON. Soon the musicians enter behind an array of instruments at the back and an overture of sorts strikes up. Isn’t it great to see a live band for a show like this when many others too often rely on recorded music now. Well, what sort of show is ‘An Evening with Anton Du Beke and Friends’. If like me you have only missed a handful of Strictly Come Dancing programmes in its 21 series since 2004 (or even of its companion show It Takes Two) and followed the antics of the virtually ever-present Anton – as the urbane senior pro-dancer and now judge – over the intervening years, you might have expected, as he remarked, ‘a dance show’ … and indeed we probably were. In fact, what you get is – in the very best way possible – something of an old-style variety show, which promises ‘song, dance and laughter’ and it certainly delivers on that promise in a colourful, slick and – despite its occasional unscripted and haphazard moments – classy entertainment.

It is no wonder Anton Du Beke names the late Sir Bruce Forsyth – legendary entertainer and presenter of the early series of Strictly – as one of his heroes as it is clear that Anton learnt so much from watching him and now is a triple threat as a showman in his own right, as he sings some of this favourite songs, performs some his signature dances, and makes us laugh out loud with his repartee with the audience and the anecdotes about his career, as well as other quips; however mildly risqué and longwinded they might very occasionally be. Anton jokes about his shows being a hostage situation like those of the much-missed Sir Ken Dodd whose audiences at his evening shows would often be still in their seats as midnight approached. Anton Du Beke does talk and talk but at the end I would have happily sat through it all again. As an aside, I have my survivor’s badge from watching Ken Dodd and I also saw Sir Bruce Forsyth in a London Palladium one-man show so have no hesitation in naming Anton to be their equal as a consummate showman.

While Anton tells us – in his typical non-self-deprecating way! – what we are seeing is ‘essentially’ all about him, it isn’t of course because ‘Anton Du Beke and Friends’ need those ‘friends’ to make it the success it is. Under Anton’s regular musical director/pianist Clive Dunstall, there is a very accomplished band of eight musicians and four extremely talented female dancers. Last – but in no way least – it is wonderful to see and hear again Lance Ellington, the epitome of style and sophistication as a vocalist, in the same way Anton is as a dancer.

It is not in doubt that Anton Du Beke basks in the adoration of his audience from the moment he comes on stage in his top hat and tails to sing and dance his way through ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ and a first duet with Lance Ellington of ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’. Lance gets his own first moment in the spotlight with ‘Higher’ (made famous by Michael Bublé) and then there is a high-energy dance routine for ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’. And the songs keep coming, firstly with ‘Don’t’ Get Around Much Anymore’, a Duke Ellington (no relation!) classic. The first half ends with Lance and Anton fooling their way through ‘Do-Re-Mi’ from The Sound of Music. In the second half there a tribute to Bruce Forsyth when Anton and Lance sing ‘The Lady is A Tramp’ and ‘Me and My Shadow’ and during this Lance gets to celebrate his own father, the musician and bandleader, Ray Ellington, of The Goon Show fame and much more besides, by singing the delightful, jazzy song he wrote ‘The Three Bears’.

Dance highlights included Anton reminiscing about starting learning to dance and partnering the elegant Rosie Ward in a delightful waltz; later there is a slow foxtrot to ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, ostensibly as a tribute to another of Anton’s heroes Len Goodman, former head judge on Strictly, who died earlier this year but also clearly inspired by yet another dancer who has strongly influenced Anton, Fred Astaire. There is also a reminder of the seminal choreography of Bob Fosse with ‘All That Jazz’ (Chicago) and ‘Willkommen’ (Cabaret) and then the very best dance routine is a dramatic tango featuring Irini Pericleous’s fiery Spanish violin; throughout all these Anton Du Beke and his dancers excel.

Rosie Ward and Anton Du Beke performing a Tango with violinist Irini Pericleous

Well as for laughter, there is so much of it, and you will not have any future enjoyment spoilt by me telling you too much. Early on we learn how ‘This is the only show where you can get your mobile phones out, ask me anything you want’ and he responds to some of the texted questions he gets. We learn of his love of custard, and throughout the evening his responses morph into stories about how he met his wife and news of his young twins, George and Henrietta. We learn there will eventually be a new TV travelogue to Spain with Strictly dancer Giovanni Pernice as Anton recalls memories of camping with him on Mount Etna for their previous one, as well as other stories about his time on Strictly. There is some good-natured joshing about Southend – or Souffend! – and with someone Anton singles out in the audience: his ‘victim’ this time was ‘Jan from Canvey Island’, whilst amongst the birthday shoutouts there was one for Emmi’s 101st!

The show which has been – as advertised – full of ‘song, dance, laughter’ ends with a comedy mashup duet of ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ before an encore with Anton Du Beke, Lance Ellington, musicians and dancers, giving ‘New York, New York’ all they have got and getting the audience to their feet and joining in.

Will I enjoy a show more than this anytime soon, I doubt it!

Jim Pritchard

For the dates of An Evening with Anton Du Beke and Friends in 2024 and to book tickets click here.

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