BWW Review: A NIGHT AT THE MUSICALS, Royal and Derngate
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra's new concert A Night at the Musicals is a well-judged programme of crowd-pleasing favourites, where my only real complaint was the sound mix. Guided by their charming conductor Freddie Tapner, there are songs from The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton, as well as Disney classics and the more expected West End staples from Lloyd Webber, Wicked and Les Mis.
The high point of the evening for me was former Phantom Luke McCall's "Music of the Night" - which combined a stunning vocal performance with wonderful light and shade from the orchestra, showing exactly what they can do when the music balance is right. Unfortunately, that balance wasn't always there. The singers were frequently overpowered when the entire 32-piece orchestra was being utilised, and even some individual sections had trouble making themselves heard at times.
I couldn't hear the French horns very much at all (which was a particular loss in the opener, the Overture from Gypsy), and any time the electric guitars and the drum kit were deployed, they tended to overwhelm everything else. I thought the mix improved in the second half, where the reeds became more audible as well the bassline less prominent, but the singers still struggled to make their vocals heard at times.
As a musicals geek, I knew pretty much all the words I was listening for and was mostly fine, but my companion for the evening who didn't complained that he could rarely make out the lyrics. That was a shame, because Emma Kingston was giving it everything in "Don't Rain On My Parade", as was recent Elphaba Emma Hatton in "Defying Gravity".
I enjoyed the audience participation element of the show, which saw a member of the audience have a go at conducting. In Northampton, she did exactly what I would have done (or tried to do), making them slow down and speed up at will, which was a lot of fun. There is also a lot of humour here - the aforementioned "Music of the Night" is followed by Spamalot's parody "The Song that Goes Like This", and there's a gag about whether they've managed to cover all 12 soloists in "One Day More" with just four singers.
It's always wonderful to hear musical theatre tunes played by a larger orchestra than a typical theatre can afford, and all my niggles are fixable. The fundamentals are there: the music selection is right, the singers are great and the orchestra is clearly very good. Definitely worth a look.
A Night at the Musicals took place on 22 October