BWW Review: PROMS IN THE PARK, Hyde Park
The BBC Proms closed another year with literal bangs, as the Last Night of the Proms played out at Proms in the Park in a blaze of fireworks, alongside the more traditional classical performances over at the Royal Albert Hall.
The BBC has made no bones about its desire to achieve a more diverse audience base for the Proms, and Proms in the Park is the best vehicle to achieve this. Not just a classical concert, Proms in the Park exists to celebrate the BBC Concert Orchestra and its delivery of an extremely broad musical repertoire.
The world's largest contemporary choir, The Rock Choir, kicked proceedings off with some crowd-pleasers like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", and "Bohemian Rhapsody". For the purists, Aled Jones and Russell Watson featured early on in the programme, with a classic rendition of "Volare", amongst others.
The Proms' ode to musical theatre began with a mash-up of "On My Own" and "I Dreamed a Dream" by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Shan Ako, the current Fantine and Eponine in the concert version of Les Miserables playing at the Gielgud Theatre.
Proms host Michael Ball donned his Javert jacket, and belted out the signature "Stars", shortly before introducing Jon Robyns' brilliant performance as King George from Hamilton. Ball then broke the news that Robyns had been cast as Jean Valjean in the upcoming Les Mis cast opening in the newly named Sondheim Theatre. A temporary exclusive for Proms-goers, as the news story broke seconds afterwards online.
The Cardinals wrapped up this MT extravaganza with a rendition of "Shallow", from A Star is Born. Sound issues slightly plagued this performance - the levels on all the microphones didn't sound quite right - but nevertheless, it was stunning.
An impressive line-up of retro pop acts graced the stage next, with Gabrielle, Lighthouse Family and Bonnie Tyler - who struggled slightly with the vocals, but the crowd went wild regardless. Jack Savoretti gave us some mellow acoustic vibes, which changed the pace nicely before ramping things back up again for Chrissie Hynde, who proved her staying power with a powerful delivery of five songs from her back catalogue.
Headliner Barry Manilow closed the proceedings, storming through a 40-minute set with the energy of a man half his age. His vocals were on point, and even his lesser-known hits went down well - clearly there were many Fanilows in the audience. Plugging his 2020 tour, Manilow appeared to be thoroughly enjoying his time on stage, and he was the perfect showman, bringing everyone together in a dancing shower of sequins.
It was a shame, then, that once Manilow left the stage, with everyone excitedly anticipating the BBC Concert Orchestra's traditional Last Night anthems, the BBC decided to run some VTs from earlier in the day. It felt like unnecessary filler that went on for far too long, and whilst I'm sure it was scheduled for good reason, it dampened the atmosphere and some people started to leave.
For those of us who did stay, the pomp and ceremony that we all expect from the closing night of the Proms rang out through "Conquering Hero", "Land of Hope and Glory", and "Jerusalem", amongst others. However, this entire section felt somewhat uncomfortable, given the economic climate we're in - voraciously waving a Union jack whilst singing "Rule Brittania" felt far too self-congratulatory for a country that, politically, doesn't have a huge amount to be proud of right now.
Despite the odd pacing and sound issue, Proms in the Park undoubtedly achieved its objective: to produce a spectacular climax to its eight-week run of "world-class music-making" in an accessible way. You won't find a better celebration in town.