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Friday Night Classics: Cole Porter – Let’s Do It – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Roderick Dunk
Reviewer:  Selwyn Knight

Unlike many of his songwriting contemporaries, Cole Porter wrote both music and lyrics for his songs, a fact that added an extra dimension to his writing with words and music complementing one another from the genesis of the song to the finished piece, working together in equal partnership to achieve Porter’s end. And it helps that he was superb at both disciplines. Tonight we get the whole range of Porter’s output from his brilliantly timed and rhymed list songs to the haunting that seem to persist well after the last note has died away to the upbeat –  as well as a whole raft that defies categorisation.

This evening, we have the majesty of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) under the baton of Roderick Dunk sharing the genius of Porter’s songwriting with us, supported by four talented singers, all with extensive backgrounds in musical theatre.

Dunk leads the orchestra with genial authority, and his pleasure in the songs is clearly communicated to them with players smiling broadly at the musical jokes unable to quite keep still as Porter’s rhythms wash over them. The result is a consistently melodious sound that forms a seamless backdrop to the singers’ performances and also stands alone in the purely orchestral pieces, including the overtures that start each half. As the evening progresses, Dunk introduces the singers and tells us that these are the original orchestrations of the songs, so we are hearing them as Porter himself did. This is especially obvious in I’ve Got You Under My Skin, sung by Caroline Sheen, in which the orchestration is quite staccato at times and somewhat unsettling if one’s ear is more attuned to Nelson Riddle’s arrangement for Frank Sinatra. Sheen has previously sung in such shows as Grease, Les Misérables as well as the lead in Mary Poppins. Her singing tonight in, for example, Blow, Gabriel, Blow!  is full of sass and volume.

This is, however, a concert that was almost banjaxed before it began as one of the originally booked singers had to withdraw at short notice. However, his replacement, Damian Humbley, a veteran of such musicals as Company and Merrily We Roll Along, proves to be an inspired choice. Humbley’s light tenor and relaxed delivery – reminiscent of a young Perry Como – perfectly suit the sophistication of Were Thine That Special Face, while the upbeat Be A Clown shows how chameleon-like his voice can be as he adapts to the different songs’ needs.

Local boy Jon Boydon, fresh from a six-year West End stint as Tommy Devito in Jersey Boys, brings a rich mellow tone to his songs, for example, All Through The Night. His voice also complements that of Humbley as they meld together in Hey, Babe Hey! and showcase the clever lyrics of Brush Up Your Shakespeare. Our final soloist is Anna O’Byrne, who combines a career in musical theatre with opera and demonstrates a powerful and soaring soprano, for example, in All Of You. Her rendition of So In Love is particularly intense and moving.

It is proved over and over again that all of our singers are excellent interpreters of songs – their superb joint rendition of Night and Day as an encore raises goosebumps and their performance of Begin the Beguine is full of sultriness. The only mis-step is the duet, Well, Did You Evah? which seems to fall rather flat.

Overall, however, a feast for the ears with the superb playing of the CBSO complementing beautifully the voices of the singers to bring an evening of sublime music from the master-craftsman, Cole Porter.

Reviewed on 10 February 2017 | 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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