One of the plus sides of living in London is access to a wide variety of music, theatre, cinema and other experiences. So the last time we were at the Royal Festival Hall it was for a special concert to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Daniel Barenboim’s first appearance playing at the venue, with a wonderful pair of Brahms concertos played by the maestro, accompanied by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
I mention this to contrast with last night’s musical theatre extravaganza which was put together by Maria Friedman and Tim Jackson in order to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards (formerly called the Society of West End Theatre awards).
The programme balanced standards from the musical repertoire (overtures from ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Candide’, the snappy “You’re The Top” from ‘Anything Goes’, Clive Rowe’s show-stopping piece from ‘Guys and Dolls’: “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”) with items from the jukebox musicals ‘Beautiful’ (the title track), ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (“Waterloo Sunset”), and ‘Jersey Boys’ (a medley including “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man”), by way of familiar modern pieces from ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (a lovely duet between former Raoul Michael Ball and sparky young Scarlett Strallen of “All I Ask Of You”), the title track of ‘Me and My Girl’, ‘Stars’ from ‘Les Miz’ (a decent if emotionless rendition by Ball) and five different pieces of Sondheim including two songs from perhaps his least accessible musical, ‘Sunday In the Park With George’, the fabulous “Our Time” from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, which showcased the talents of the young Guildford School of Acting choir, and the highlight of the night for me, Maria Friedman’s “Losing My Mind” from ‘Follies’.
In a varied programme we also enjoyed Strallen’s perky “Ice Cream” from ‘She Loves Me’ (which is ripe for another revival), Friedman’s title song from Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (not, as she told the listening radio audience, dressed as a teapot), and, showcasing the youngest of talents, “Quiet”, from ‘Matilda’, in which Lara McDonnell commanded the stage with effortless poise. The ‘Me and My Girl’ duet gave Katie Brayben and John Dagleish a chance to show they could sing when they were not impersonating Carole King and Ray Davies respectively. And I was happy to see Daniel Evans again performing the works of both wordsmiths, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.
Lesley Manville performed the role of MC with charm and warmth, linking the numbers for both the audience in the Hall and the one at home. And bringing back Petra Siniawski from the original cast of ‘A Chorus Line’ was a touching and effective opener.
I should also mention Elaine Paige, who came on in gold and glitter to try and bring back memories of her ‘Evita’. It didn’t work for me, remembering when her voice was glorious when she was Eva and when she was Norma Desmond, but it seemed to be a crowd-pleaser.
A night of considerable polish, sparkle, and just a sprinkling of stardust.