BWW Review: THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT, Royal Albert Hall
Following on from their celebration of all things Queen in October, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra last night returned to the Royal Albert Hall for a night of modern musical magic. Conducted by Richard Balcombe, the orchestra performed an incredible range of songs from modern-day shows - ranging from screen-to-stage adaptations and jukebox hits, to completely original musicals.
Stage star Bonnie Langford (currently in the West End production of 9 to 5) was there to oversee the evening's events, and was joined by soloists Alex Gaumond, Celinde Schoenmaker, Louise Dearman and Ben Forster, as well as the ArtsEd Ensemble.
The event kicked off in true musicals style, with an overture - this one happened to be from the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers, so got things going in entertaining fashion. There followed a series of solo numbers from a selection of various musicals; of these, Celinde Schoenmaker's sultry "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" (from Strictly Ballroom), Louise Dearman's powerhouse "Defying Gravity" (from the evergreen Wicked), and Alex Gaumond's "Being Alive" (from Stephen Sondheim's Company) were major highlights.
The latter was a great eye-opener to those of us who have only seen the reconfigured - female-led - version of Company, performed with gusto by 2018-19 West End cast member Gaumond.
The orchestral Mamma Mia! medley showed the four chosen songs in a completely new light, proving Benny and Bjorn's pop songwriting genius in majestic fashion; the orchestra will be back at the Hall in September 2020 with ABBAphonic, so this was an intriguing preview for anyone who hasn't previously seen that show.
At the end of act one we were taken to revolutionary Paris, Gaumond showing his Jean Valjean credentials with a tearjerking rendition of "Bring Him Home", before being joined by his fellow soloists and the ArtsEd Ensemble for the rousing "One Day More". I couldn't think of a more fitting way to round things off and make the audience want to rush back for more after a short break.
It wouldn't be a modern musicals special without the presence of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice - a trio of songs from The Phantom of the Opera was one of the big highlights of the night, particularly Schoenmaker and Forster's duet on the title song. The former's rendition of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" later brought the house down.
The benefit of having someone like Bonnie Langford hosting is the wealth of experience she brings, sharing stories from the "dramatic and traumatic" rehearsals for the original West End run of Cats (the description of Judi Dench's injury provoking a collective grimace from the audience), as well as getting a performance of her own when "The Diva's Lament" from Spamalot came up - and acting as unofficial publicist for niece Zizi Strallen when Mary Poppins and the film version of Cats both came up.
With the ArtsEd Ensemble we got more than 'just' a choir, as they had learnt some pieces of choreography from Kevan Allen earlier in the day to bring an extra dimension to their performances; "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" brought a taste of the Summer of Love, and worked especially well as an ensemble number with the orchestra. A great way to celebrate the institution's 100th birthday, and a sign that the future of musical theatre is in strong hands.
My personal favourite moment of the night was Louise Dearman's rendition of "No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)" from the Queen musical We Will Rock You; the orchestral arrangement of the already-poignant song along with Dearman's soulful vocals made it impossible to stop the tears by the time the final verse came around, a timely reminder of the emotional power singers wield in their vocal cords.
After a night of emotional highs and lows, it was only right that we went out with some upbeat numbers - the audience left with smiles on their faces following "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" from Dirty Dancing and "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" from Jersey Boys. Evenings like this show exactly what musical theatre is capable of, and do sterling work in keeping the flame burning in fans of all ages.