Review: ROCKETMAN: LIVE IN CONCERT, Royal Festival Hall

The celebrated Elton John biopic marks its fifth anniversary with a pair of concert screenings at the Southbank Centre

By: Apr. 21, 2024
Review: ROCKETMAN: LIVE IN CONCERT, Royal Festival Hall
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Review: ROCKETMAN: LIVE IN CONCERT, Royal Festival Hall “People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight, they pay to see Elton John!” In the sea of ubiquitous biopic-by-numbers that is modern cinema, one film really stood out from the crowd. Dexter Fletcher and Lee Hall’s Rocketman is the epitome of ‘What Would Elton Do?’, as it veers from one multicoloured musical explosion to another; whereas most biographical depictions of a star’s rise to (and fall from) fame in the most straightforward and accurate fashion they can, this is unashamedly a fantasy memoir told from Elton’s nostalgic perspective. And it has finally made its way to the live arena in the UK.

The first of two screenings in the Royal Festival Hall at London’s Southbank Centre marked its debut film in concert performance in this country, a large HD screen suspended in the hall as the London Concert Orchestra played along - the soundtrack features a multitude of hits written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, as well as a score by Matthew Margeson.

Conductor Matt Roberts, principal violin Jonathan Hill and pianist Ben Dawson all came dressed for the occasion, donning a gold sparkly jacket, trademark Elton John glasses and shiny red shoes, respectively. For an event that arrived with relatively little fanfare, this was a nice touch - as it was to look around the audience and spot the hardcore Elton fans in various branded clothing. These screenings can be on the pricey side, but they are events that devotees can treat themselves to.

An marvellous job was done in balancing the sound mix throughout the film; there’s a lot more background score than you might initially notice when watching the film normally, as well as some songs behind the dialogue, and this was exceptionally well-managed. The orchestra adjusted the volume accordingly, although the captions provided were a good backup.

The Royal Festival Hall proved itself to be a brilliant venue for this type of screening, carrying the music perfectly around the room - at times it almost felt as if we had been sucked into the film itself, the sound was that immersive. It was also incredibly (and fittingly) loud. So loud in some numbers that it was like being at a gig, making the Troubadour “Crocodile Rock” scene even more effective than usual; the end credits rendition of Academy Award-winning song “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” also went down particularly well with both the orchestra and the audience.

There is currently something of an obsession with adapting films into stage musicals, and of all the films that have had this treatment it feels almost wrong that this isn’t one of them. Theatre is stamped all over Rocketman, from its big musical number style and storytelling through songs, to the plethora of regular stage performers popping up in small roles. Granted, Elton John has preferred to work on new stage musical ideas in recent times, however this live version of the score just hammered home how well this story would work onstage.

The film itself is one of the most imaginative and original music biopics of recent times - if not longer. You get the sense that Elton John’s story could only have been told in this way; Rocketman is not afraid to show the darker side of his life, whilst countering this by embracing some silliness and great one-liners (Stephen Graham’s cameo as music publisher Dick James is especially memorable). At the heart of the film is an extraordinary performance from Taron Egerton, showing off his vocal abilities as well as his skills as an actor - one can only hope he can be enticed back to the stage for a musical in the not-too-distant future.

If you are an Elton fan or simply loved the film, I cannot recommend this experience highly enough. The immediacy and dynamism of the music in this setting is such a thrill, and guaranteed to give you goosebumps from the first notes to the last.

Rocketman: Live in Concert was at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 20 April and will be at the Birmingham Symphony Hall on Saturday 22 June

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures


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