Overtures at Bishopsgate Institute – Bishopsgate Institute, London

Conductor: Freddie Tapner

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Earlier this year, Overtures Piano Bar opened regularly following a 2018 pop-up version, named after the famed New York bar Marie’s Crisis, was so successful. The format is simple: a pianist with a large musical theatre repertoire plays show tunes and the audience sings along.

Since opening, the Marble Arch venue has gained popularity from musical theatre actors and audience members alike. And for a one-off performance, Overtures joined forces with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra for a larger scale singalong at the Bishopsgate Institute.

Hosted by Paul Branch and Maureen Ward Rejali, presenters of the Sunday Show Tunes radio show, the relative lack of seating is initially disconcerting: this is an orchestra, and a genre, which is used to sing delivered to audiences sitting in neat rows, or at the very least around cabaret tables. Some of the audience take advantage of the floor space, though, to dance along as well as sing.

And it’s the singing along which is the major draw here. After a solo performance by Overtures regular Izzy Bates of David Zippel’s It’s Better with a Band, things get off to a rocky start with Something’s Coming from West Side Story, a song whose changes in tempo wrong foot many of the people attempting to keep up.

Things soon settle down, though, just as the audience warms up. The LMTO, under the baton of Freddie Tapner, leads the audience in a number of songs from The Sound of Music to A Chorus Line. An attempt to lead the crowd in a rendition of Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera is less successful, and it is perhaps merciful that that musical’s catalogue is not explored further.

Dominating the evening, though, are the composing talents of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, starting with a bumper four songs from Little Shop of Horrors, and then moving into The Little Mermaid. Overtures creator Ray Rackham adopts the persona of sea witch Ursula for the spoken segments of Poor Unfortunate Souls, but even her threat of removing singers’ voices cannot stop the audience from joining in with that number, Part of Your World and Under the Sea.

After the interval – topped and tailed by fan favourite numbers Defying Gravity and Seasons of Love – the Ashman and Menken catalogue is plundered once more for Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast and Friend Like Me from Aladdin, before the Disney plundering draws to a close with the Elton John and Tim Rice composition Circle of Life.

It’s noticeable when switching to numbers from Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly that instant lyric recall is much harder. Thankfully, for these and many other numbers lyric sheets have been provided, although as the evening wears on more and more numbers are launched into that leave one scrabbling around on a mobile browser to find lyrics online.

But after a raucous (if lyrically inaccurate) crowd rendition of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango fades away and the crowd is whipped up into a flag-waving, barricade-storming Les Misérables climax, it is one of Herman’s lyrics that sums up the evening. “I feel the room swaying / For the band’s playin’ / One of my old favourite songs from way back when” sums up the spirit of the singalong/concert hybrid.

And while this reviewer will always prefer to be seated hearing professionals treat these songs with the technical accomplishment they deserve – indeed, a highlight of the evening is watching actor Jodie Jacobs give her best Nancy with Oom Pah Pah from Oliver!– one cannot deny that evenings like this demonstrate the shared affection for show tunes that Overtures, and the LMTO, are tapping into.

Reviewed on May 12 2019 | Image: Darren Bell

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Raucous evening of singalong

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