Vanara – The Legend, 3 Stars

Vanara – The Legend
Hackney Empire
22nd Oct – 31st Oct 2021

“A fantastic ensemble of West End and international talent will come together to launch the world premiere of Vanara – The Legend at Hackney Empire, including Matthew Croke (Aladdin, Prince Edward; Hair, London Palladium), Glenn Carter (Evita, UK tour; Jesus Christ Superstar, UK tour), Johnnie Fiori (The Sunshine Boys, Savoy Theatre/ Ahmanson Theatre, LA), Carole Stennett (Death of a Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre; The Bodyguard, UK tour), Cavin Cornwall (Jesus Christ Superstar, Barbican) and, phenomenal rising-star Emily Bautista (Les Misérables; Miss Saigon – Broadway), who will be making her London debut.
Further cast bringing Vanara – The Legend to life include Samantha Mercer (Les Misérables, West End; Jerry Springer the Opera, National Theatre), Kayleigh McKnight (Tina The Musical, West End; Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Heathers, West End; Miss Saigon, UK & International tour) and Shem Omari James (The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leicester Curve). The production will play for a strictly limited London run before embarking on a UK-wide tour in 2022.
Highly anticipated following its lauded workshop performances and concept album, the ground-breaking production will be directed by Adam Lenson and Eleesha Drennan, who will also serve as Dramaturg and Choreographer respectively. Vanara – The Legend brings together an acclaimed international creative team, with a soaring score by Gianluca Cucchiara, lyrics by Andrew James Whelan, book by Michael Conley, conceived by Tony Cucchiara and produced and developed by Giovanna Romagnoli. Further creatives include set and costume design by
Libby Todd, with orchestrations by Jen Green, musical direction by Tamara Saringer and casting by Harry Blumenau.
The production will also feature an incredible ensemble with Jemima Brown, Chris George, Yuki Abe, Olivia Jones, Ella Martine, HIcaro Nicolai, Prem Rai, and Ebby Sama.
With a prevailing message of hope and call for unity, the production resonates with the chaos of today’s society and the earth ravaged by natural disasters. This fiery phenomenon has gained cult status among fans throughout its development process. With its blend of theatre, contemporary dance, and technical innovation, Vanara – The Legend is crafting a new language for musical theatre. It is an excitingly modern musical like nothing before.
As disaster threatens to destroy the world they know, two tribes are locked in an age-old battle. One young woman must make a choice: protect the traditions of her people or challenge everything she has been taught. With total devastation bearing down on them, will the two tribes reunite before it’s too late?
Producer Giovanna Romagnoli comments, We’re thrilled to bring together this incredible ensemble to premiere Vanara – The Legend in London. We can’t wait for audiences to witness the fantastic spectacle on stage, showcasing the talents of both the cast and creative team.”

Original Book & Concept Tony Cucchiara
Composer Gianluca Cucchiara
Lyricist Andrew James Whelan
Book Writer Michael Conley
Director & Choreographer Eleesha Drennan
Director & Dramaturg Adam Lenson
Set & Costume Designer Libby Todd
Musical Director Tamara Saringer
Lighting Designer Sam Waddington
Orchestrator Jen Green
Casting Director Harry Blumenau
Producers Giovanna Romagnoli and Gianluca Cucchiara
THE OROZNAH Johnnie Fiori
AYLA Emily Bautista
MOHR Matthew Croke
TONAH Carole Stennett
CROHM Cavin Cornwall
TAHL Glenn Carter
UTZA Samantha Mercer
SINDAH Kayleigh McKnight
CALADAR Shem Omari James
ROOH Jaoquin Pedro Valdes
Ensemble Jemima Brown, Chris George, Yuki Abe, Olivia Jones, Ella Martine, HIcaro Nicolai, Prem Rai, Ebby Sama

Review by Richard Lambert, 3 Stars

VANARA – the Legend has got to be the biggest most epic and spectacular show I’ve seen in London outside of the West End venues. It is huge! Enormous set, cast, orchestra. A pageful of listed Creatives. It’s all there. It’s bold and majestic with even a 2-ring revolve on stage. No expense spared!

Vanara – the Legend is set to tour the UK in 2022, but raises the question of “how on earth is that achievable”. The costs would be enormous!

Anyway, back to this production.

Yes it’s big and grand and the principal cast have the most fabulous voices! Musical arrangements and orchestrations to die for. But there’s a problem at the core – the book is very thin. Two tribes, an arranged marriage, and an illicit love affair occurring between the most eligible member from each tribe. A battle ensues and the younger brother is accidentally murdered. So far so West Side Story good. But that’s it for a 90 min Act 1.

Act 2 is beyond me as to what happened. “The long night is coming” we’re informed many many many times. Over and over again. I’m not sure if it came or we’re still waiting. There was a fire, a really good well staged fire, and then they all seemed to agree that Vanara was not “a place” but was “the people”. So on this basis, they settled their differences, I think.

It’s trickly to know exactly where we’re supposed to be. Are we on earth or some alien planet? The body paint and over-done make-up, much of it blue, is quite distracting. How did such different tribes end up being in the same jungle? Where’s the Tardis? The Queen’s wooden staff has a plastic windscreen ice scraper attached to the top. For such a lavish expensive production, the make-up, body paint and ice scraper detail brings it all crashing down to our planet earth. And you have to have a story. There’s no point putting on a show if it lacks a reason to be and doesn’t really have a story.

It’s on a grand scale with memorable imagery. Libby Todd’s Set is both detailed, futuristic and tribal. The lighting from Sam Waddington is just gorgeous and is the saving of this production! The lush warmth and atmosphere from the well considered lighting kit maintains the interest even when the story has stalled.

The musicality is absolutely beautiful and the grand scale of this production make it well worth a visit. But don’t expect much to happen in the 2.5 hours.

Photo Credit: Jane Hobson

Further Information:

All tickets for the preview performance, Friday 22nd October, will be £20 (plus booking fee).
Notes to Editors Title Vanara – The Legend. The Musical.
Dates Friday 22nd – Sunday 31st October 2021
Location Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8 1EJ
How to Get There The closest station is Hackney Central, which has direct interchanges from Highbury & Islington (Victoria line), Stratford (Central line) and Canada Water (Jubilee line).
Box Office Tickets range from £13.50 – £46 and are available from the Hackney Empire Box Office at

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