Ray Shell’s cabaret debut is a rollicking, gossipy, exuberant affair, zooming through musicals and pop hits from his glittery career. He’s the host with the most – flirting with every audience member, giving us his small secret asides (‘I haven’t told anyone this…. I’m serious!’) and getting us clapping and singing along.

The first half of the show is a quick-fire succession of hits, starting from his gospel roots, to Broadway, then his transfer over to the West End – plus his dabble in pop music. There’s a wealth of insider gossip and name-dropping here, with everyone from Meatloaf to Kate Bush being brought up, plus some great tunes – One Night Only and The Long and Winding Road are absolute standouts. The small set up (three backing vocalists and three musicians) is good but a little lacking – the four-part harmonies never quite have that ‘wow’ factor, and other than the incredibly funky bassist, the musicians didn’t quite blow me away. All focus is on Ray, and for the most part that’s fine – his infectious enthusiasm bowls you over and I found myself grinning from start to finish. Whether it was the fact that he wasn’t always singing songs that were his own (for example, songs from The Police, which he had originally sung backing vocals for), or just because he was just getting warmed up, this first half sometimes felt a little strained – slightly too high for his range, with notes cracking here and there, and the occasional tuning problem.

The start of the second half tells you that this is a whole new affair: he comes on stage with a tattered copy of his novel, Iced, and as he reads from it, we are launched into a whole section of his own work – songs that he himself has written, mainly from a show called White Folks, whose female lead also comes on stage to sing two songs for. The songs are great, and here we get the best use of the four-part harmonies, plus some belting leads from the leading lady. There’s less life story in this second half, and as such it’s a bit muddled, with Ray forgetting some of the segues, and the band are rendered slightly useless as a lot of these songs use backing tracks instead. An old friend from Children of Eden takes the stage for one number, with an incredible funk-infused version of Nature Boy – and his voice is absolutely spot-on, note-perfect – just as you’d expect from a West End star.

Miraculously, when Ray takes the stage again, there’s new life in his voice. For his final four songs, he is in his element, finally completely at ease with the melodies and with his own voice, using every part of his booming low notes and sweet, soft falsetto to wrangle emotion and credibility into every word. From the jovial Your Feet’s Too Big to powerful Not My Father’s Son, to the inevitable child-like wonder of his career-making Starlight Express, we see this West End star back on peak form – a glimpse of days past.

Reviews by Carys Evans

The Battersea Barge

I Love You You're Perfect Now Change

★★★
The Crazy Coqs Cabaret & Jazz Club

Ray Shell - Back To Black II

★★★
Camden People's Theatre

The Forensics of a Flat (and other stories)

★★★
Leicester Square Theatre / THE LONDON THEATRE - New Cross

Jo Burke: Burke Shire

★★★
St James Theatre

Urinetown: The Musical

★★★★

Back To Black

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

Ray Shell’s West End career has embraced starring roles in many of the greatest musicals of the past 30 years, from Hair and Starlight Express to The Bodyguard.

Now he is making his London cabaret debut with Back to Black at The Pheasantry.

Back to Black will feature Ray’s distinctive interpretation of well-known songs from musicals from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd to current Broadway hit Kinky Boots and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

Most Popular See More

Dear Evan Hansen

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Hairspray

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Anything Goes

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets