The Great British Musicals – In concert
Placed in the sparse yet streamlined space that is the St James Theatre, The Great British Musical Concert invites audiences into its time-travelling world of themusical works of: Gilbert and Sullivan, Lionel Monckton, Vivienne Ellis, Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Lionel Bart, Leslie Bricusse, Andrew Lloyd Webber and many more. All of these were charismatically presented by Nicholas Parsons – most well known for his comedic role on television in the 1960’s, as well as performing in West End musicals and touring productions of Into The Woods, The Rocky Horror Show and numerous others.
Throughout the evening’s performance there were moments of comedy well executed through the use of specific song choices. However, as suitable for the over-emphasised operetta style of the Gilbert and Sullivan section, in later sections of the concert it verged on over-acting for the size of the space of the performance – which sometimes unfortunately detracted from the glorious vocals of The Novello Singers.
The Novello Singers are a group of ten talented singers that have credits from a variety of West End shows, national choirs and other concert platform performances. They were brought together by Artistic Director of the project, Ross Leadbeater, who created the group to remind contemporary musical theatre audiences of the classics of British musical theatre writing. Leadbeater who musically directed the entire evening carefully selected the musical numbers and arranged them all together with seamless transitions to create a topical through line. There was not a single clunky moment between the different musical numbers: they all merged together smoothly – interspersed with comedic anecdotes from Nicholas Parsons about his life in theatre.
The show emits a nostalgic feel because of the nature of the concept and the homage it pays to the Great British musical composers of the past. This resulted in there being repetition of similar genres of song particularly early on in the first Act which almost had a semi-classical sense to it. The concert started with songs from the early 1900’s developing through to the early 2000’s with the penultimate musical number being a sophisticatedly orchestrated medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs performed by West End Stars Jon Robyns (recently seen in The Last 5 Years at the Greenwich Theatre) and Louise Dearman (primarily known for playing both lead roles in Wicked). The Andrew Lloyd Webber section included excerpts from Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Song and Dance, Sunset Boulevard and The Woman In White.
The dashingly handsome Robyns first appeared half way through Act II for a trio of songs which included Pure Imagination, If I Ruled the World and What Kind of Fool am I? His rendition of What Kind of Fool am I? was simply captivating, performed with such class and raw emotion leaving the audience wanting more – which we luckily got when he returned at the end of the show. Louise Dearman was saved as a treat for the audience till the penultimate number in which she performed a beautiful interpretation of Unexpected Song from Song and Dance and a powerful performance of Memory from Cats. Standout performances from The Novello Singers includes best female, Leigh Rhianon Coggins with her stratospheric range, easy vocals and emotive acting choices; best male, Rhidian Marc for his hilarious version of Flash Bang Wallop compared to his title song Fredrick’s Aria showing how talented and versatile he is as a performer.
Unfortunately The Great British Musical In Concert has only been given a short run at the St James Theatre, so if you are free this afternoon/evening go and get tickets to see the evolution of musical theatre through the ages!
Reviewed by Tom Yates