Reviewer: Mel Duncan
’You’ll be out of here by 10 o’clock, eh – always good to know’
As a stand-up comedian, Jason Manford is no stranger to the Lowry. In fact, its home turf, and is always packed to the rafters with assorted friends, family and local supporters whenever the tour arrives. Given the venue’s very special place in Manford’s heart, it is a fitting venue from which to trial his musical theatre concert performance.
Stemming from his participation in 2011ITV hit show Born to Shine, where he discovered an unlikely skill in operatic singing, Manford debuted as Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli in hit musical Sweeney Todd just a year later (‘I was on at quarter to 8, and dead by half-past – sat in the dressing room waiting for bows’ Manford quipped). He has performed live with legend Alfie Boe, and recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra for the album A Different Stage. Most recently the Salfordian performer proudly toured Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to his hometown, in his role as lovable Caractacus Potts.
Manford maintains a wonderfully down to earth relationship with fans via Facebook – live streams from backstage and post-gig, and the formation of the ‘Jason ManFat weightloss group’ in which both Jason and his fanbase share stories and offer support to each other. Notable last night was a post just half an hour before curtain up, in which Manford mused on the thought of 1500 people coming to hear him sing, and in a very rock and roll manner boasted of his honey and lemon pre-show drink!
A very simplistic sight greets the audience upon arrival into the Lyric Theatre. Seats for a string quartet, guitarist and pianist, a star cloth and a table. At 7.55pm the reason for the table becomes apparent as the stage manager brings on a teacup of water for the performer. It seems inconceivable that this concert would be spellbinding from such a simple setup.
Yet, from the minute the musicians begin, magic unfolds. A warm, well-balanced sound fills the theatre, and over top drifts a gentle, soothing sound. Manford can sing.
As the gentle strains of As If We Never Said Goodbye washes over the audience, a beautiful atmosphere fills the space, and those hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. An interesting choice to open, as tradition would dictate something more rousing, however, using one of his innate talents as a comedian, Manford reads the room perfectly when making this selection.
Rich and earnest, every note telling the story, the first half flies by in a flash. Invited onto the stage are the Potts children from Chitty, to help sing, and special guest Tiffany Graves provides ample support. Most notable are the second half performances of Perry Como’s Impossible, and Irish song Carrickfergus – sung with such simple grace and sincerity, yet showing power and vocal mastery.
What is most memorable about this performance is the whole-hearted sincerity – Jason Manford gives every fibre of his being in sharing the message of each song, both in singing and in the stories of introduction. The personal reason for each song being in the setlist is a beautiful touch, and even the moments of slipping into standup simply for a moment of rest and light relief are so wonderfully endearing. A tiny moment – the singer gripping his microphone stand in the introduction to one number – is the only physical tell of any nerves.
Pointing out family members, laughing with the audience as they heckle and comment, in a friendly jovial way – this man is a truly giving performer. As a result, the audience feels valued, and a part of the show’s journey. Providing truly inclusive experiences like this is no mean feat, and Manford should be so proud of what he has achieved – audience members ranging from early years to those in receipt of the Queen’s Telegram, and everyone behind him and engaged. It was so blatantly obvious that this entertainer is there at the whim of his audience, and makes them the focus of the show.
This trial concert, one of only two in the country, is hopefully the pre-runner to a larger scale tour. Jason Manford is a seriously talented performer, who has the rare skill of taking songs and presenting them with true understated emotion, which speaks louder than any affected sentiment could ever possibly live up to.
A truly magical night – both Nanas Manford and Ryan must be so proud!
Reviewed on 13 November 2017 | Image: Contributed