Friday Night Classics: Best of the West End – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Martin Yates

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Six weeks after its postponement due to severe wintry weather, we assemble in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on one of the hottest days of the year so far for the latest Friday Night Classics offering from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), this time celebrating the music from great West End (and Broadway) musicals. Tonight’s conductor, Martin Yates, acts as MC and provides background on some of the songs. He has a paternal approach which is echoed in his conducting, urging the orchestra to fill Symphony Hall with sound. The CBSO is ably assisted by tonight’s four singers, Anna O’Byrne, Caroline Sheen, Jon Robyns and Scott Davies, all of whom have extensive experience in musical theatre and, in a couple of cases, opera. And this really shows in their performances: each singer is pitch-perfect as one might expect, but they also deliver the songs with an emotional punch.

For much of the evening, the CBSO’s main rôle is to accompany the singers, but it does get the chance to show us what it can do with the opening number, the overture from Annie, providing a rich deep sound including quirky percussion and the wistful melody of Tomorrow. But we are quickly treated to the singers harmonising together with The Lullaby of Broadway from 42ndStreet, in which the men display vibrant notes and the thrumming heartbeat of the city is evoked effectively by the orchestra. As the pieces of the first half progress, each singer has the opportunity to shine, with the girls providing sultry tones in All That Jazz, Robyns delivers the powerful lyrics and climaxes of Miss Saigon’s Why God Why while Davies moves from breathless excitement to triumphal notes in ‘Til I Hear You Sing from Love Never Dies. There are moments when the voices are eclipsed by the power of the orchestra, for example when Sheen sings the latin beats of Buenos Aires from Evita.

But it is after the interval that the real power is unleashed: each singer steps up a gear to deliver heartfelt performances. Memory from Cats is a triumph for Sheen in a sweet performance full of charm; Music of the Night has a wide range making it difficult to sing: Davies does so magnificently. Robyns ensures the lyrics of On the Street Where You Live evoke the overwhelming nature of new love, while O’Byrne gives a quirky performance in Popular. Finally, all four come together for a moving performance of One Day More from Les Misérables – followed by an upbeat and fun Abba medley as an encore.

This is a well-selected evening of music from performers all at the top of their game: a terrific celebration of musical theatre at its best.

Reviewed on 20 April 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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