Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

photo-141The annual concert by the John Wilson Orchestra has become a highlight of the Proms Season. The Orchestra’s unique mission is to recreate the authentic sounds of the Golden Age of Broadway and Hollywood, but this is the first occasion on which it has brought a semi-staged version of a single musical to the Proms. In this case, “semi-staged” means a full company of actors/singers/dancers, fully costumed, performing in the area in front of the Orchestra, without a set and with minimal props. Of course, the nature of the Proms and the venue dictate that the emphasis is placed firmly on the music. Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate was last seen in London at the Old Vic in 2012/13 and such is its stature as a musical comedy that further revivals are never likely to be far away. However, conventional theatre productions have their limitations in terms of orchestra size. There are no synthesisers in this version. The leading roles are sung by Ben Graham (Fred/Petruchio), Alexandra Silber (Lili/Kate), Tony Yazbeck (Bill/Lucentio) and Louise Dearman (Lois/Bianca) and all are faultless. James Doherty and Michael Jibson chip in with a suitably droll Brush Up Your Shakespeare, which, as always, stops the show. Dancing, choreographed by Alistair David, is an additional delight, but the biggest problem with this staging is that acting out the scenes in full simply does not suit the vast Albert Hall nor the musical purpose of the performance. Yes, it is beneficial to be able to put the songs into their context, but that might still have been achievable if several spoken scenes which fall flat had been trimmed or, in one case in the second half, cut out altogether.  That said, this evening is all about the glorious sound that fills the Albert Hall and allows us to close our eyes and imagine being in Radio City Music Hall in the 1940s. We may see versions of Kiss Me, Kate that are better than this, but it is very unlikely that we will ever hear one that is better.

Performance date: 2 August 2014

(The performance was recorded by BBC television for transmission in December)

The beautiful Great Hall at Battersea Arts Centre is transformed into a Parisian music hall of the 1930’s; audience members are seated at tables around the performance area, acres of plush red velvet curtains dominate the room and even the huge built-in organ is brought into use. Ostensibly, we have come to see a mimed enactment of the story from Greek mythology in which Orpheus descends into the Underworld in pursuit of his lost love Eurydice. Of course, the mime show is completely ridiculous even though the sight of over-sized performers prancing around and exaggerating their facial expressions in the style of Valentino and Pickford is intermittently funny. But this is not the point. The mime show is there just to give the setting and ambience for the music, played by a wonderful eight piece orchestra, all of whom also perform in the mime. The music is basically anything and everything French, ranging from Debussy to Piaf, but most prominently it is jazz. The production makes the inspired assumption that the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt would have been performing at this venue on this evening. Playing Reinhardt, Orpheus and guitar, Dominic Conway is magnificent. He is equalled by Eugenie Pastor, MC, chanteuse, flautist and Eurydice. These two performances are unforgettable tours de force. If this is what the Underworld is like, those of us who are probably destined to go there need not feel so bad about it.