Jason Manford has promised that The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals will be a “joyous celebration” after the industry had a “terrible time” following the Covid pandemic and amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The 41-year-old comedian hosts the event which sees musical stars including Alexandra Burke, Samantha Barks, Helen George, Michael Ball, Melody Thornton, Connie Fisher and Jodie Prenger take to the stage.
The evening, which was held in Manchester in February and will be broadcast on the BBC on Saturday, featured West End and touring shows like Hamilton, Les Miserables, Wicked, Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, Disney’s Newsies, and Six The Musical.
He told the PA news agency: “I always think theatre and musical theatre and comedy or anything is good for the soul, it’s good for you, it’s good to see people having a great time, even in difficult moments.
“It’s been a terrible time for the industry, whether it’s pandemic, whether it’s cost-of-living crisis placing customers in crisis, it’s a very difficult time at the moment and hopefully nights like this help.”
He added: “This is just a joyous celebration of musical theatre in Britain.”
Manford also said the “real difference” this year has been that the show was staged by The National Lottery at the AO Arena Manchester as the expense for the public to come to London to see big productions can be too great.
He added: “I really felt like that being in Manchester was an extra lift because… the audience was so honoured that it was happening in their city.”
Manford highlighted that disability rights campaigner David Stanley, who runs The Music Man Project, based in Essex – which is aimed at getting young adults and children with learning disabilities into the performing arts, was honoured on the night.
He added: “That was actually one of my most favourite moments in a 25-year career, to be honest, because there’s a moment…when these kids see Michael Ball has come out to give them this award.
“There’s no filter with these kids and they just have to tell him how much they love him, It will just bring tears to a glass eye.”
The show also sees glimpses from upcoming productions like singer Brenda Edwards taking on the role as the Killer Queen when We Will Rock You returns to the West End in June after 21 years.
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer Joanne Clifton also performed as Princess Fiona ahead of the Shrek The Musical UK & Ireland Tour beginning in Plymouth in July.
Manford said musical theatre performer and presenter Ball, 60, singing Love Changes Everything from Aspects Of Love was “pretty special”, and joked that the St John’s Ambulance “had to come in and get a fair few nanas out” as they were “fainting all over the place”.
A recording of Big Night Of Musicals will air on BBC One on March 25 at 7.50pm.