Musicals in Concert: Leading Ladies – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Richard Balcombe

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

This year’s Raymond Gubbay Christmas Festival at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is now drawing to a close, but there are still some goodies to come. Tonight, the spotlight is turned on the leading ladies of musical theatre as Richard Balcombe conducts the London Concert Orchestra, and musical theatre stars Louise Dearman, Kerry Ellis, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Linzi Hateley bring some of the biggest showstoppers to life.

As one peruses the programme, what is immediately apparent is that there aren’t all that many truly great songs written for women – for example, a featured musical is West Side Story, but almost all the songs there are sung by men or, at the very least, include men and so we can only really hear America. The four ladies sing this together and make a great job of it, but it does provide food for thought.

What is also noticeable is just how good these women are: seasoned professionals all, not only do they hit the notes squarely, they also perform the songs, adding a dimension sometimes lacking in concerts that seek to showcase musical theatre tunes. All deserve, and get, a fair share of stage time, either as soloists or in groups. Indeed, the evening is pretty much wall-to-wall music with one performer smoothly entering as the previous exits. On occasion, it might be nice to draw breath and hear some of the context of a song or an anecdote about them, but this is really a trivial criticism.

Less trivial, however, is the sound balance. The London Concert Orchestra isn’t a huge orchestra but it easily fills Symphony Hall with sound. Under Balcombe’s experienced hand, it soars and swings, providing a melodious sonic backdrop to the singers. But the volume on the microphones seems a bit low, especially in the first half, so, while the quieter, more introspective sections are beautifully balanced and hit home, the crescendos and power of, for example, Big Spender, which all four sing in the first half, sounds a bit strained; and in Buenos Aires the voices are quite overwhelmed. Nevertheless, the more delicate As Long As He Needs Me, featuring the sultry voice of Hamilton-Barritt and Tell Me It’s Not True from Dearman are both quite sublime.Throughout we find the voices of Deaman and Ellis voice soar while those of Hamiton-Barritt and Hateley provide resonance, richness and depth.

After the interval and the power of the voices is more consistently unleashed: Send In The Clowns from Hateley is movingly brittle with stunningly good phrasing, Dearman’s I Dreamed A Dream is haunting, Hamilton-Barritt’s What I Did For Love is phrased perfectly while Defying Gravity from Ellis fair raises the roof.

Overall, a great evening of entertainment from some of musical theatre’s finest voices and well worth the effort on a cold and grey December evening.

Reviewed on 28 December 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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