SOUND OFF: Cool, Considerate Colm & Sarah Shall Shill
This week, we are taking a listen to a pair of crossover theatre/pop stars who have two timely new releases. Both performers have been featured in the Olympics this year, Wilkinson's "This Is The Moment" from the JEKYLL & HYDE concept album and Brightman's Olymptic green theme, "Shall Be Done", playing prominent roles in the proceedings. Also, both performers were involved in the original 1985 Sydmonton workshop of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and just this week the curtain went up on the sequel to the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webbber mega-hit, LOVE NEVER DIES. Both engaging entertainers continue their winning streaks, so to say, with these recent efforts...
Colm Is Home
Colm Wilkinson - Broadway And Beyond: The Concert
The grand-master of the mega-musical, having originated some of the most memorable heroes and misunderstood monsters of the genre - such as The Phantom, Jean Valjean, Jekyll/Hyde, and Che (Guevera), amongst others - Colm Wilkinson is a calm, cool, collected beast of a performer: able to affect an almost animalistic intensity as well as a soft, beguiling, if bespoke, sentimentality, both at the same time. He is known for being an emotional, evocative and committed performer, occasionally to the detriment (and, equally as much, to the benefit) of less-than-stellar material which simply cannot sustain or contain his fierce and ferocious vocal attack. Truly, the better the material the better he comes across performing it, but he is also capable of a few card tricks that mask the flaws of his fodder and it is with those time-worn ticks that the only questionable aspects of an otherwise strong, solid collection of songs are revealed. What some may find bracing in his performance and singing style, others find endlessly endearing, and this album goes quite a long way to win over those who have not yet warmed to his myriad gifts, though at first glance that may not be immediately apparent. Wilkinson does not sing songs, he attacks and embodies them, and in the process he elicits layers of meaning and sentiment that may have lied dormant to the less attentive listener, or unrecognized altogether given the emphasis on music over lyrics in much of the material he performs (and mega-musical scores in general). Let it be said that this is far and away his best solo effort so far, certainly as far as US releases go, and I'd even go so far as to say it contains many of his best vocal performances to date on record. While there are few surprises in the song-stack, it is the way in which he makes the music work for the character that is his best asset and by the album's conclusion we are reminded how much he is missed on Broadway, having been absent for nearly two decades. The ferocity and intensity with which he devours this material is absorbing and effective.
BROADWAY AND BEYOND: The Concert begins with a deep-voiced, mature and sensitive rendering of the most memorable song from the score of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, "Music of the Night". The extended falsetto on "soar" does exactly that and, twenty-five years on, Wilkinson proves that no one can put over this number quite like he can. We may miss the larger orchestra that has backed him at the Cameron Mackintosh HEY! MR. PRODUCER performance or the 10th Anniversary Performance of LES MISERABLES and elsewhere, but Wilkinson more than makes up for it with this thrilling rendition of the truly classic song. "Tennessee Waltz" is appropriately bluesy and country-tinged and immediately displays his ease with any number of musical styles. In this track and a few others he reveals a maturity and focus to his delivery that he has not displayed before and while the expected tracks are not radically re-invented, they are infused with a newfound energy and, in a few cases, ignite a white-hot heat that seems to emanate from his every cell. "Wind Beneath My Wings" is given a touching, tender rendition, as is the sonorous, soaring "Bring Him Home" from LES MISERABLES. It is a huge compliment to Wilkinson's power as performer and lyrical interpreter that he can wring a bit of wit and unearth some soul in the over-the-top and overdone "This Is The Moment" from JEKYLL & HYDE. Also on the less attractive side is the curious song selection, and to me a bit of a misstep, "Runaway", complete with annoying organ solo, but perhaps it lends a level of levity to the live performance but I can't help but feel that it possess a slight whiff of a Forbidden Broadway-style parody, revealing Wilkinson's most derisive vocal tics and overwrought, oddly brogue-tinged enunciations. Coming after this odd entry is a plaintive but powerful performance of "Some Enchanted Evening" from SOUTH PACIFIC. "Country Road" finds Wilkinson back in Grand Ole Opryland, like "Tennessee Waltz" before it, with equally effective results. "Somewhere", while vocally not quite on the heavenly high level of Barbra Streisand or Johnny Mathis, is a welcome addition to Wilkinson's concert repertoire and ends the first half of the disc on a high note. Speaking of high notes, there are many more where these came from and the album gets instantly more interesting with the next song selection, as we shall see.
The Leonard Cohen ballad "Hallelujah" has been covered by hundreds of artists over the years and given its sheer raw emotionality and tender trappings it is not difficult to see why Wilkinson would choose it for a concert. It is pure pop musical storytelling at its best, and a perfect showcase for Wilkinson's talents. Merging Broadway, pop and country he creates a wondrous sound, along with the expert back-up vocals and harmonies provided by Siobhan Pettit and Aine Whelan. "House of the Rising Sun" allows Wilkinson to let loose revealing him to be the musical chameleon he is even more so than before as he attacks each line and note with delectable delight. In stark, striking contrast, "If Ever I Would Leave You" from CAMELOT shows his diametrically opposed, soft and sensitive side and while it will not erase memories of Robert Goulet, Wilkinson acquits himself well though the last note may go a bit too far for some purists. Nevertheless, it seems as though the better the lyrics and the more evocative the sentiment contained within them, none much more than on this track, he is at his very best. And let it be said that he is very, very good and certainly at home on the stage.
Wilkinson is a performer, first and foremost, and a recording artist second, and this is made clear continuously over the course of the album with his cool, calculated, careful delivery of nearly every word he sings and acts. "Ol' Man River" is sure to split critics, as it certainly goes far enough over the top to see the other side, but even the most dismissive among us must respect his tremendous tenacity and almost superhuman strength in wringing every last emotion out of seemingly every single sibilance in the song. I was not kidding when I called him a musical monster, for he attacks, tears apart, chews upon and gnaws on the concluding crumbs of every song he sets his sights upo. That is a beautiful thing and few do it better than him. "Whiskey In The Jar" makes yet another strong case for Wilkinson's winning country abilities and if we are to take all three such tracks on the album as some sort of a sonic audition for an all-country album I say bring it on, particularly if he focuses on musical theatre-related country material such as some of the selections that can be found in Schmidt & Jones' ROAD SHOW, THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, or even one or both of the last songs in MEMPHIS. "Danny Boy" is heartwarming and makes one curious how he would have done with the Irish-themed material in the Jeff McCarthy role from Boublil & Schonberg's PIRATE QUEEN, a role which he was once announced to play before the troubled show hit the boards (and hit the wall shortly thereafter). "Anthem" from CHESS, one of the most blisteringly open-hearted and bombastic ballads ever written for a musical, or even a rock opera, is appropriately dramatic and compelling if lacking the slightly snide bite that lurks in the occasionally ironic lyrics by Tim Rice. John Lennon‘s "Imagine", prefaced by a plaintive and prayerful spoken word plea for peace ends the album with an effortlessly emotional and moving moment that is memorable if only because Wilkinson puts so much of himself into his performance of it, as is the case over the course of the entire album. He is a monster of demonstrability in becoming, embodying each and every one of the characters in each of these rich performance opportunities. He devours each moment with relish, to our delight and exceeding entertainment.
Wilkinson is one of the last great performers left (who is consistently performing) of the mega-musical generation of musical theatre performers and it is to his credit that he has managed to become a better vocalist and an even more emotionally evocative performer as time has worn on, while many in his position have destroyed their instruments merely by singing the treacherous scores of many of those shows with improper technique. Few well-known tenors can hit and sustain the notes that Wilkinson can, and fewer still at around sixty, and it is to his estimable credit that in the twilight of his years he is better than he has ever been before both as a vocalist and musical interpreter. Also, and maybe most importantly, few performers can put across a song the way Wilkinson does and this album is a pleasure to listen to if only because it is proof that a performer can actually grow, mature and change over time to the benefit of the material and the performances themselves. Indeed, the combination of this seasoned performer with compelling material creates a combustible combination and reveals the man behind the monster of the mega-musical, whether he be The Phantom, Jekyll, Hyde or Colm to be just about the best we have got. Just Colm, man or mythic musical monster, is just right.
Shall We Shill?
Sarah Brightman - "Shall Be Done"
Shall We Shill?
Is it inherently wrong to hold too much of a critical lens to what is essentially a commercial, if a well-produced and well-performed one? Either way, it shall be that Sarah Brightman's new single is catchy and well-intentioned in its themes, but slightly trite and sugary - but isn‘t the same true of a lot of other satisfying pop music, particularly that manufactured and used to advertise a product? The catchiness of the chorus is, I suppose, its greatest asset but the lyrics lack any real conviction given the green-themed gist of the overall content, as it is. After all, it is a promotional single for Panasonic above all else so it should not be set, for our purposes, to too high a standard. That being so, it exceeds most of its ilk.
The best part of the whole affair is undoubtedly the music video, available at the link, if only for the interesting visual effects afforded to Brightman and the ingratiating performances of the children (Note: I am not usually a fan of child actors). The song surely does get stuck in your head. Therefore, I suppose, the song does its job well, but I wish it were a bit more inventive and compelling, yet it is very entertaining for what it is: a jingle. And Brightman's performance is lovely, vocally rich and quite visually stunning. In the end, it is a relatively good effort by all.