Conductor: Richard Balcombe
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The interregnum between Christmas and New Year. Chocolate overload. How to return to some semblance of normality and refresh one’s artistic palate? This is one question that The Sound of Musicals sets out to answer. There’s no mention of chestnuts, snow or miraculous births, but plenty of memories from famous musicals.
The programme includes the expected features: it opens with a sequence celebrating some of the great American songwriters, including Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim (who gets a further solo outing after the interval) and Cole Porter, tributes to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the, perhaps inevitable, medley from Les Misérables. But there are also some more unexpected highlights – for example, pieces from Rent, Billy Elliott the Musical, Blood Brothers and Promises, Promises, the only musical penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
The first half passes pleasantly enough, but the whole steps up a gear after the interval, manipulating emotions and moving effortlessly between the upbeat to the reflective. We begin with the overture and title song from Oklahoma! – the latter allows our four singers to flex their vocal muscles: their voices complement each other really well, an early demonstration of the care that has gone into building this evening of music.
Indeed, our hosts could barely have better credentials for this evening’s task. The conductor, Richard Balcombe, has been music director for a roll call of some of the finest West End musicals including Aspects of Love, The Phantom of the Opera, Carmen Jones and Guys & Dolls and our four singers have all graced the West End stage: Kerry Ellis was the first British Elphaba in Wicked and originated the role of Meat in We Will Rock You; Joanna Ampil has starred in Les Misérables, Jesus Christ Superstar and Miss Saigon; Oliver Tompsett has appeared as Fiyero in Wicked as well as rôles in Guys & Dolls, We Will Rock You and Momma Mia!; Graham Bickley’s credits include Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard and Ragtime. Their backgrounds in the trade show time after time as they all demonstrate that they are great interpreters of songs. Bickley also exhibits nice comedic timing and an expressive voice in I’m Reviewing the Situation. A great crooner, he also reveals a fine and powerful singing voice in Music of the Night. Tompsett displays the feeling of growing confidence with Electricity from Billy Elliott the Musical while Ellis’ delicate interpretation of Send in the Clowns is aptly described by the line, “Isn’t it bliss”. Ampil impresses with her striking rendition of I Don’t Know How to Love Him and displays a fine bluesy voice during Seasons of Love. Occasionally, voices are lost in the power of the orchestra – this happens, for example, in Ellis’ otherwise powerful and ballsy interpretation of Don’t Rain on My Parade.
Practically every combination of singers is used during the evening and there is no combination that doesn’t work, whether it is Ellis and Ampil with the touching and uplifting For Good from Wicked, syncopated fun with Ellis and Bickley with Friendship, or If I Loved You from Tompsett and Ampil, a song filled with longing.
Backing up the singers is the Manchester Concert Orchestra, a fine body of musicians who are clearly enjoying themselves smiling, laughing and swinging to the more upbeat tunes.
As a panacea for post-Christmas blues, this concert has it all – great songs, great singers and a fine orchestra. It’s touring into the new year and is well worth seeking out.
Reviewed on 29 December 2016 | Image: Contributed