Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Richard Rodgers, one of musical theatre’s finest composers, enjoyed two careers with two quite different lyricists: firstly with Lorenzo Hart from their first meeting in 1919 to Hart’s death in 1943; and then with Oscar Hammerstein II from 1943 until Hammerstein’s death in 1960. Between them, these three men moved the musical on to include sharper storylines with the songs integrated and including social comment. This short series of concerts seeks to celebrate the best of these two partnerships from over forty years of work, including extracts from South Pacific, Oklahoma!, Babes in Arms, State Fair, Carousel and, of course, The Sound of Music.
The sweep and grandeur of the tunes is provided by the Manchester Concert Orchestra, led by conductor David Shrubsole, whose energetic movements show he is really enjoying the music he conducts. They play a number of medleys which set the tone for the songs provided by no less than four guest soloists. The singers open the main part of the evening with ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ from Babes in Arms (from Rodgers and Hart). After this we get a short introduction from the soloists to the background and work of these incredible songs. This is enjoyable, but is almost the only interaction that takes place with the audience. Although each singer is talented and acts out the songs, the omission of regular interaction makes for a slightly sterile feeling. The singers sing in almost every conceivable combination of solo and duet, as well as altogether, for example, ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’ is an early duet between Gillian Bevan and Celia Graham, while Graham joins Tim Howar for a touching version of ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’. Howar’s rendition of Billy Bigelow’s soliloquy, ‘My Boy Bill’ from Carousel tugs the heart strings as he squeezes out all the emotions felt by expectant fathers. However, the real showstoppers are saved for the second half. Matthew Cammelle delivers ‘Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’’ with power and joy; Howar’s ‘Blue Moon’ is heart-stoppingly beautiful; Bevan’s ‘Bewitched’ showcases her rich voice and acting talent. Although Graham’s voice is sweet and tuneful, it can be a littlebrittle and seems to lack the power of the others so that her vocals are sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra.
Of course, the evening would not be complete without a nod to The Sound Of Music, provided by a medley of songs, including the wistful ‘Edelweiss’, the last one written by Hammerstein before his death, sung beautifully by Cammelle.
Overall, a great night out recalling some of the greatest showtunes of the last century, allowing us to marvel anew at the skills of these three great men. If you love musical theatre, or just great songs, this is well worth catching.
Reviewed on 28 December 2013, touring to 30 December