Ria Jones returned ‘home’ to Swansea Grand Theatre tonight, back to where it all began, when as a child, she appeared in local pantos and musicals prior to becoming a leading West End performer while still in her twenties. Playing before a local crowd, including friends and family from the area as well as a sizeable fan base, Jones proved that she has lost none of the vitality and vocal power for which she is well known, having appeared in lead roles in a string of shows from Les Miserables and Chess, to Joseph and Evita. But it was another Andrew Lloyd Webber show that featured as Jones’ opening number – ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard. Jones was actually the first ever Norma Desmond in the very first workshop of that show at Lloyd Webber’s Sydmonton home, while in her mid-twenties, and it’s high time she was cast in a revival. Jones wrings the emotion and power out of every line in that song, and the local crowd unsurprisingly erupted into an ovation at the line ‘I’ve come home at last’! As the title of the show says, Ria’s Back...and then some.

The evening contained a selection of songs from the musical theatre world, as well as standards performed by many of Jones’ heroes, such as Garland (a moving rendering of ‘The Man That Got Away’), Streisand (a beautifully judged ‘Evergreen’) and fellow Welsh star Bassey (with Jones’ ‘Diamonds are Forever’ as glittering as her outfit!). An emotionally-charged ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ was a song that kept Jones going during her own personal health battle last year – having vowed to sing it one day, it stopped the show. But it’s the musicals’ showstoppers that Jones is most associated with of course, and she vamps it up in a sassy ‘All That Jazz’ and is in more reflective mode in a lesser-heard song from Chess, which was her first West End show. Originally understudying Elaine Paige, Jones went on to play both female leads in that show – “a little confusing in ‘I Know Him So Well’ as you can imagine!"

Although it was very much Jones’ evening, she graciously shared the stage with various guest singers. ITV’s Superstar finalist Rory Taylor, who recently starred alongside Jones, Kerry Ellis and Joanna Ampil as the only male amongst their West End Women, joined Jones for the fun – and highly appropriate – duet ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, and gave a stirring solo version of ‘Bring Him Home’. This latter song was part of a lengthy Les Miserables section, with six local singers (who augmented the evening effectively at various times) joining Jones for ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’. One of those singers, the up-and-coming tenor Michael Lowe, gave a confident rendering of ‘Stars’, and Jones herself recalled another previous role, as Fantine, with ‘I Dreamed A Dream’.

Jones’ big belt of a voice is ideally suited to showstoppers, and when combined with her naturally vibrant and extremely likeable persona, makes for an evening of musical theatre heaven. Video footage showing shows and performances from the past, along with old friends and colleagues, also added to a sometimes retrospective evening, reminding us how many great shows and roles Jones has played. Jones recalled the trio of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows in which she starred, with a crystal clear ‘Prologue’ from Joseph, in which she played the Narrator on a variety of occasions, and a reflective ‘Memory’ from Cats, in which she starred for two years in the West End, playing Grizabella. But it was Evita that was Jones’ first big break – and, having previously auditioned for the role of the mistress, Jones received a later call-back to audition for the role of Eva Peron while appearing in panto at her beloved Swansea Grand Theatre. A few months later, aged only 19, she was playing Evita in the national tour, and never looked back. A selection from that show featured a stylish and toe-tapping ‘Buenos Aires’ and a well-stated ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’. As for the future, the world is still Jones’ oyster, but as far as Lloyd Webber is concerned, it’s only really a fully-staged production of his Sunset Boulevard that has so far eluded this talented lady. It’s surely only a matter of time, as Ria’s Back...and she’s singing better than ever.