Music: Frank Wildhorn
Musical Director: Jason Howland
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
An impressive array of global, national and local talent combines at the Palace Theatre to showcase the work of American composer Frank Wildhorn; the Grammy and Tony Award nominee responsible for a number of Broadway musicals, most notably 1990 hit Jekyll &Hyde.
The man himself proves an eminently likeable host who builds a relaxed rapport with the audience and thus lends this one-off concert a more intimate feel than the large venue would suggest. Wildhorn brought with him eight hugely talented performers, including four members of the cast of his upcoming musical Wonderland, accompanied by the stunning 30-piece Manchester Camerata orchestra.
There are initially some sound balance issues in certain numbers that make some of the lyrics difficult to understand, but it is only an occasional problem and the staging is largely polished and professional.
As a teaser for Wonderland – heading to the Palace in April 2017 – the concert certainly helps build anticipation, with UK cast members Wendi Peters, Dave Willetts, Stephen Webb and Natalie McQueen providing a taste of what is to come. McQueen is a particular standout; full of attitude and swagger her Mad Hatter could well steal the show.
Wildhorn’s biggest hit to date remains his debut Jekyll &Hyde and West End leading lady Cassidy Janson takes a night off from performing as Carole King in Beautiful to deliver a gorgeous version of Someone Like You. Jekyll &Hyde’s famous 11-o-clock number This Is The Moment – here affectionately nicknamed “This is The Mortgage” – is powerfully sung by German theatre star Thomas Borchert.
Although primarily known for his soaring ballads, Wildhorn’s versatility shines through in group numbers such as Havana and Bring On The Men with swing inspired melodies hinting towards his roots in jazz and rhythm and blues. With flawless harmonies one certainly wouldn’t expect that some of the cast had only just met – their voices blended together beautifully.
For those less familiar with Wildhorn’s work, some additional context for the songs would help to lend them more of an emotional impact. Aficionados however, will appreciate selections from a number of his musicals, including The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count of Monte Cristo and Dracula.
It is a particular delight to see original Bonnie and Clyde cast member Laura Osnes reprise her role as Bonnie in two numbers, for which she was nominated for a Best Leading Actress Tony Award. Osnes has an effortless charm and crystal clear voice that is one of the highlights of the night along with her fellow guest from Broadway, Jackie Burns. Burns’ stunning rendition of A New Life from Jekyll &Hyde almost brings the house down and she closes the show in equally spectacular style with Finding Wonderland.
A highly enjoyable evening, it is a treat to hear such stylish and skilled performers and by the close of the show one cannot help but look forward with excitement to future full productions of Wildhorn’s work.
Reviewed on 22 November, 2016 | Image: Lisa Gee