Tag Archives: Concerts

REVIEW: John Wilson Orchestra – The Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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Nothing heralds the start of the Christmas season more vividly for me than the annual trip to see the John Wilson Orchestra. It’s not the cries of “It’s Christmas” blasting from every supermarket speaker or the switching on of the lights in George Square, but the sound of the orchestra tuning up and those spine-tingling first notes ringing out around the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

This year’s concert That’s Entertainment is a return to the 2009 Prom which took Wilson from respected conductor to worldwide sensation. Eschewing the big names (Seth MacFarlane, Curtis Steigers, Julian Ovenden and Sir Thomas Allen, to name a few) that have peppered previous concerts, he sticks with stalwarts Matthew Ford and Anna-Jane Casey, a pair of sublimely talented singers. Ford, with his magnificently evocative voice brings the era of the Hollywood crooner masterfully back to life and Casey, a gifted actress as well as singer, with the ability and stunning vocal skills to transport you right back to the golden days of the MGM musical.

This perfectly judged and perfectly polished programme opens with the magnificent MGM Jubilee Overture and the skill and talent of the performers and Wilson’s fastidious attention to every detail of this music, shines through from the opening note.

The concert cracks on at a blistering pace, played with exuberance and verve by the breathtakingly talented musicians, from familiar classics such as: “The Lady is a Tramp”, “You Made Me Love You”  and “A Couple of Swells” to lesser known gems: “Thanks a Lot But No Thanks” from It’s Always Fair Weather and the little heard score from Silk Stockings, each piece is beautifully executed and designed to delight the audience, an audience I might add who remained entranced throughout each song and moved to rousing applause at each’s conclusion. Most heartening to see was the age range of the sell-out audience, from little children right through to those able to remember this music in its glorious hey-day, through the talent and skill of Wilson and his orchestra these glorious musical classics live on and boy is this audience thankful that it has.

Of the 200 or so shows that I review each year for work, this is one of the few that I look forward to from the moment it’s announced and unlike much of what I see it never disappoints, a pure pleasure and an unalloyed triumph every time. Spirited, soaring, sparkling, sure-footed, sumptuous, vivid, vibrant, witty, well-judged, thrilling and triumphant. Sheer perfection!

 

 

 

REVIEW: Octave, One…Two…Three…GLO – GLO Auditorium, Motherwell

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Following their recent triumph at The Glasgow Music Festival where they were crowned Best in Class in the Mixed Voice Choir competition, Octave return for their third annual concert.

This is a musical ensemble that is almost impossible to find fault with, the entire group are worthy of the highest praise. The programme, by Musical Director David Fisher, is impeccably put together:  a well-judged mix of the familiar and the lesser known with a smattering of the unexpected thrown in for good measure. The narrative which threads the evening together is also an amusing and informative addition to the show.

The relationship between the singers and the warmth they have for one another, communicates itself well to the audience and the fastidious staging, specially created for the circular auditorium, ensures both the full engagement of the audience and full use of the excellent acoustics.

Octave richly deserve acclaim, not only for the quality of their glorious vocals, but also for the originality of their musical choices. On the basis of this concert their reputation as the best in their field remains unassailable.

 

 

REVIEW: Rent the 20th Anniversary Concert – Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

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Celebrating 20 years since it’s first staged performance, West End and Broadway leading lady Kerry Ellis stars with runner up of ITV’s Superstar Rory Taylor in this concert of the hit musical RENT.

Kerry Ellis and Rory Taylor performing in Rent 20th Anniversary
Set in the East Village of New York City, Jonathan Larson’s RENT is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this musical has become a pop culture phenomenon with songs that resonates with audiences of all ages. Taking Giacomo Puccini’s La boheme as its inspiration, RENT follows a year in the life of a group of friends struggling to make it in the big city under the shadow of HIV and AIDS in the early 90’s.

Despite opening in the West End in 1998 and running for only 18 months, RENT is one of a band of musicals which has inspired a dedicated following down the years, all the most astonishing is the fact that it has achieved a mythical status among theatre fans whose  only exposure to the show is the 2005 film.

This concert version, which has been imaginatively designed to re-create some of the atmosphere of the original stage production affords  fans of the show the chance to finally experience the music live. Whilst never able to convey the emotion of  the  fully staged musical this production delivers on many levels.

Rent 20th Anniversary Concert at The Liverpool Echo Arena Audito

 

Primarily it is the casting that elevates this above your run of the mill re-hashes of musical classics. Standout amongst a fine ensemble cast is ITV Superstar runner up Rory Taylor as Roger. During that show Taylor got the chance to  showcase his vocal talents so it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise that he was so impressive. His range and tone were a true treat for the ears, he also delivered a  finely judged acting performance as the young musician and songwriter. The same cannot be said though for Kerry Ellis, her status among theatre fans having always been a mystery to me – every time I have seen her, her voice has either been seriously underpowered or she has been utterly  lifeless. Here she doesn’t fare well as Mimi the HIV positive erotic dancer – she looked as if she was dialling in her performance and there was much and very vocal muttering from the audience during the interval and at the end. We can only be thankful that due to a fine casting director we were spared seeing her in the show-stopping role of Maureen – the lesbian performance artist – here the role goes to scene-stealer Nickki Davis-Jones who gives a master class in how to fully inhabit a role. Eliciting some audience participatory moooos during her vivid performance art! Also deserving of praise is Iain Stroughair as the AIDS suffering, percussion playing, gay, drag queen Angel, when he is on stage it is impossible not to be mesmerised by him, playing the role with such commitment and tenderness that his untimely end was met with sobs from the audience.  

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The quality of the rest of the cast is exceptional, in particular Beth Humphries and Tim Prottey-Jones who get to display their impressive vocals in the beloved Seasons of Love. The production values too are impressive – many could learn from a show of such high quality – the thought that has gone into the staging should be applauded – the only bugbear being the size of this venue, the stage is massive and the audience in the stalls  have to constantly look side to side and up and down to keep track of everyone onstage – physiotherapy needed all round. That aside this was a rare opportunity to see a cast and show of such high quality. Let’s only hope there will be more like it.

REVIEW: Michael Ball Both Sides Now Tour – Glasgow Clyde Auditorium

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There are few who could fail to be charmed by the affable personality of the musical theatre juggernaut that is Michael Ball, and the sold out and very vocal audience at the Clyde Auditorium testify to that.

This is a show of two halves, Ball showcasing his new album of pop standards Both Sides Now in the first and his personal musical theatre favourites in the second.

The two halves though adding up to a thoroughly enjoyable whole, were unequal in their quality. Had it not been for the sheer charm of the man, the somewhat middle of the road first half, populated with songs from artists as diverse as Dolly Parton and Snow Patrol would have merely been a pleasant excursion into Radio 2 territory. While it’s thoroughly understandable that artists wish to showcase their range, the song choices only sold Ball’s phenomenal talent short. That said, the material was well received and easy on the ear.

The second half by contrast was a spectacular showcase for Ball’s powerful voice. At the top of his range he is truly unbeatable and the songs chosen, a selection of the cream of the crop from a career spanning nearly thirty years, had the crowd in his thrall, the cheers getting louder and more sustained as the night drew to a close. Ball is a man who truly knows how to work a crowd and present a show tailored for maximum effect and to give maximum enjoyment. He ended the night with the tune that earned him his place in the nation’s affections Love Changes Everything with the crowd on its feet roaring for more.

With an innate ability to read a crowd, Ball then returned to keep the party going with a rousing encore, which included his Eurovision hit One Step Out of Time replete with cheesy, audience-participation dance moves.

A phenomenal performer, a stupendous voice and a true gent – thoroughly recommended.

REVIEW: Alfie Boe – Glasgow Clyde Auditorium 2013

Alfie Boe – Storyteller

Alfie Boe’s plain speaking 2012 biography Alfie: My Story charts in heart-felt detail Boe’s rather colourful and frustrating relationship with the classical music world, and in many ways this Storyteller Tour illustrates how much Boe wishes to distance himself from his operatic roots.

It was an Alfie acting out his rock star fantasies: hair cropped short and wardrobe updated, bounding across the stage, that greeted the audience in this vast, cavernous auditorium. With songs ranging  from rock classics like the Rolling Stones Angie and  Elvis’ classic If I Can Dream; pop standards Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Bridge Over Troubled Water; to the gospel Rank Strangers and Poor Wayfaring Stranger, this was a vastly different experience to last year’s sell-out musical theatre based Bring Him Home Tour.

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I am a huge fan of not only Boe’s sublime voice, but of the man himself who appears genuinely thankful for the place he has in the public’s affections and this was a performance both faultless vocally and musically. Personally I enjoyed the evening immensely and it is laudable for an artist to push the boundaries to discover what their voice can achieve and what they can accomplish as a performer, however, there were many around me who did not agree.

The Glasgow audience has a well deserved reputation as the most vocal and demonstrative in the UK and a trip 40 miles east to our capital city perfectly illustrates the difference, however Boe appeared at times genuinely disappointed in the reactions of this mixed age audience, and ill at ease in his banter. His desire to give the event a more “rock” feel was not well received by the very oldest members of the audience who had doubtless bought tickets on the strength of Boe’s operatic and musical theatre output: there were a few walk-outs; some comments of “stick to what you’re good at” and those who remained stoney-faced throughout the two hour show.

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Some blame must be laid at the song choice and the programming. I believe Boe’s aim was to present songs that had personal meaning to him but the unevenness of the scheduling of them in the evening led to a lack of continuity and cohesion. Boe’s appeals to get up and dance were taken up by many (mostly women upwards of 50) however he then proceeded to sing Everybody’s Talkin’ a song not noted for its danceability. If Boe truly wanted people up on their feet there’s a century of popular songs to choose from and when you get them up you need to keep them up by choosing songs that people can truly get involved with, not a country-style ballad.

Blame must also go to the venue choice. This is a beautiful auditorium inside and out with state of the art acoustics, it is also equipped with spacious, comfortable, almost armchair like seating none of which contributes to getting an audience on its feet or encouraging the atmosphere of a rock concert. It also suffers due to the fact that in order to provide the best acoustic experience from the stage the sound proofing in the auditorium deadens any audience noise so reactions seem muted.

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The moments of the evening that were best received were an interlude of three Neopolitan songs from the roots of Boe’s career and the always show-stopping Bring Him Home, the audience surging to its feet as the last note rang out, Boe commented on the fact that he knew that was what people had come for and we could all go home now – and my feeling is that the comment was made only half in jest.

Boe is a supremely talented artist, with a voice few could better, and I personally enjoyed myself greatly, appreciating the musical tour through the 20th Century with some stops in the classical world, however a little more thought for the programming of the evening may have resulted in the evening Boe envisaged. I look forward to what comes next.

REVIEW: John Wilson – Monday Night Live British Classics, City Halls, Glasgow

 

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“Conductor John Wilson, well known for his interpretations of American music, leads the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in an exploration of the varied work of British composers active in the first half of the 20th Century. 

Paul Watkins, acclaimed for his performances of British Music, joins the orchestra as soloist in Gerald Finzi’s Cello Concerto, a work imbued with characteristic lyricism but with darker undertones, written shortly before the composer’s untimely death in 1956.

And the concert, broadcast live on Radio 3, concludes with 2 works: Holst’s Ballet Music from his doomed opera, The Perfect Fool; and Arnold Bax’s, The Garden of Fand, an orchestral tone poem inspired by the ancient Celtic folklore in which the composer was steeped.”

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It would be a waste of words to talk about the technicalities of the playing, the complexities of the music or the astounding talent of John Wilson. All that needs to be said is that this was a tremendously entertaining evening of beautiful music, played by phenomenally talented musicians, led by one of the world’s best conductors in a venue that boasts some of the best accoustics in the world, and a bargain at only £10 – simply perfect.

Look out for further performances at City Halls: http://www.glasgowconcerthalls.com/

More information about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/bbcsso/

John Wilson at: http://www.johnwilsonorchestra.com/

Music:

Walton – Portsmouth Point: An Overture (c.6′)

Finzi – Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.40 (c.40′)

Holst – The Perfect Fool: Ballet Music (c.12′)

Bax – The Garden of Fand: tone poem (c.17′)

REVIEW: Idina Menzel live at the Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue

Accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra, the Tony Award-winning Broadway and Glee star has returned to London for a week-long concert season. 

Menzel bounds barefoot onto the stage at the Apollo Theatre in the West End and for the next two hours she chats, jokes, engages in some audience participation and above all belts out a series of songs that have either defined her career or have personal meaning.

The musical highlights include: Don’t Rain On My Parade, Over The Rainbow, Joni  Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Somewhere from West Side Story which she names as her favourite song ever, and a mash up of Cole Porter’s Love For Sale and The Police’s Roxanne. There are of course nods to her most famous roles with an audience participation version of Take Me or Leave Me from Rent and of course,The Wizard and I and Defying Gravity from Wicked. The most poignant moment of the evening comes as she shares her story about working with the late, great Marvin Hamlisch and sings his song At The Ballet from A Chorus Line.

It is her personality that sets Menzel apart. Despite her status as a Broadway superstar she is self-effacing, endearing, funny and, well, downright normal. She makes unnerving amounts of eye contact, stops to pose for photos and shares some personal as well as showbiz anecdotes with the packed out and very vocal crowd making this a more intimate and personal experience. Hopefully it won’t be too long before she graces our shores again.

REVIEWS: Ramin Karimloo in concert – The Road To Find Out – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 20th May 2012

Now this is a difficult one – a concert by probably the biggest male-lead in West End musicals at the moment, however, this show is his attempt to break free from the musical theatre world into the mainstream. The problem is that the majority of the audience are here on the strength of his performances and reputation as a musical theatre performer. So how the non-musical theatre numbers go down is going to be interesting…

…so how did it go?

Well it’s a tribute to Karimloo’s engaging warmth and sincerity, as well as his phenomenal talent, that right from the first song, he had the audience in the palm of his hands and kept them there throughout. The audience itself was on astounding form – with whoops and cheers ringing out throughout the auditorium all night. Karimloo himself tweeted after the show:

“Thank you Glasgow. Last night was unreal. I’ll never forget it. We had such a great time. Now for a long drive home. But so worth it. Thanks for the kilt love. It was a kind present sent to me before arriving to Scotland from my Scottish friend. I’m grateful. See you soon.”

as did his guests for the evening Jonathan Ansell and Simon Bailey:

  His debut UK album, which entered at number 16 in the charts was the focus of the night and despite my misgivings about this being neither a musical theatre night or an out and out concert of his own material – this was just a sublime evening’s entertainment.

There were a few brief trips to Musical Theatre Land with The Impossible Dream, Radames Letter, ‘Til I Hear You Sing, a banjo version of Oh What a Beautiful Morning, Somewhere and Bring Him Home and, of course, an encore of Music of the Night: these showcased his considerable vocal skills at their best, however, they weren’t what moved me most. He actually looked uncomfortable singing these songs and I think the rapturous reception with which his own material was received made him all the more keen to shake off the shackles of musical theatre.

Each of the original or collaborative compositions from the album were delivered with such sincerity that you couldn’t help but be won over. All of the songs from the album also played out much better live than on the recording – the life he gave to them on stage elevated them to a level that the production of the album couldn’t.

He is obviously a deeply spiritual man and he talked about his journey from Iran to Canada via Italy, and eventually his leaving his home and family to come to London with one suitcase to “become the Phantom” and now “well I’ve done that – what now?” This concert was aptly titled The Road To Find Out and the way the material was presented here, really made you want to go on the journey with him. 

His first guest Jonathan Ansell provided a musical theatre moment for the crowd with Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar, a duet on Muse’s Guiding Light and a surprisingly good version of Queen’s Somebody To Love which raised the roof.

Second guest Simon Bailey, currently Raoul in the Phantom national tour also provided a moment of musical theatre magic with Why God Why? from Miss Saigon as well as an emotional duet with Karimloo which Bailey dedicated to his recently deceased father.

The night finished with a second encore of Green Day’s Time of Your Life with the good citizens of Glasgow providing the final words of the song.

This is a calculated move away from musical theatre and it’s great to see an artist of Karimloo’s talent spread his wings, previously I would have cautioned against any musical theatre artist completely abandoning his roots – but I would urge Karimloo to have the courage of his convictions and take the time to grow and develop as a songwriter as this was a truly magical night. I would also hate to see him abandon the theatre stage as his is a rare talent – the West End would be bereft without the promise of him eventually returning.

I was a fan before, but I’m an even bigger fan now. A truly special evening.

REVIEW: Let’s Hang On – The Music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Hamilton Town House, 18th May 2012

In this production Let’s Hang On take you on a musical journey through the prolific career of one of the most successful bands of all time – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. The show tells the story of some blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks who wrote their own songs, invented their own sound and took the world by storm all before the age of 30. Mmm…sounds a bit like a rather well-known, long running West End show you might have heard of. Well let’s hang on…

In the first part of the show Let’s Hang On take you back to where it all began for the Four Seasons. There are tracks from the early 50’s when Frankie Valli first joined the group, and then, with the addition of song-writing giant Bob Gaudio, you’re treated to even more classic hits of the era.

Also in this first section of the show the stage is transformed into a street corner in New Jersey, with the group, under a street lamp singing doo-wop music a capella style.

In the second part of the show its back to back favourite hits; Dec ’63, Beggin’, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Grease, Working My Way Back To You, Who Loves You, Bye, Bye Baby and many more…

The show leads up to the finale when out come the red Jersey Boys jackets and you hear the falsetto vocals in the songs; “Rag Doll, Sherry, Walk Like A Man and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

This was an absolutely fantastic show from the first note ringing out to the standing, or should I say dancing, ovation at the end. The sheer quality of the musicianship and the detail and care with which this was done was impressive. Robin Maughan in the role of Frankie Valli was outstanding: with a pitch perfect falsetto throughout, as was Dino Buttarazzi on lead guitar. A fabulous night out and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. Brilliant music, brilliant musicians – simply just brilliant.

Find out more about them and their up-coming tour dates here

FEATURE: Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert DVD

Last night’s DVD was the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert with a cast, orchestra and choir of 500.

Alfie Boe (above) is Jean Valjean and showed remarkable control of his operatic tenor,  delivering a full-throttle vocal intensity only when absolutely necessary in the role. His  inspirational rendition of “Bring Him Home” stopped the show. Boe appeared sincerely moved by the enthusiastic standing ovation of the over 18,000 in  attendance at the O2 arena. It was completely deserved.

Norm Lewis who plays Javert, is a Broadway veteran and here he finally has a starring, rather than supporting role. I was lucky enough to see him play Javert in the full production of Les Mis at The Queen’s Theatre. Thanks to this DVD, many others will now get the chance to hear his excellent voice.

Ramin Karimloo freed from his Phantom makeup was a handsome, inspiring and strong-voiced Enjoloras and received a massive cheer at the end.

Nick Jonas (a controversial casting) is not equal in voice in any way to  his co-performers and had the most peculiar expressions throughout, but here (above) with Katie Hall as Cosette, he made for a suitably youthful Marius.

The highly talented and ever reliable Hadley Fraser (above) is a fine Grantaire, his voice here is astounding, his range and tone are just fabulous, it’s a pity he doesn’t have a bigger role. Fraser is another performer I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the Queen’s Theatre production – that time playing Javert.

Matt Lucas fulfils a lifetime dream of appearing in Les Mis and uses his comedic talents to their best effect as Thenardier.

Lea Salonga is Fantine and equips herself well enough, but I must admit I found her American twang a bit strong.

Special mention must also go to little Robert Madge (above), a scene-stealer as Gavroche.

This is, of course, a concert, but in order to add more of a theatrical feeling to the performance the actors were  costumed in either designs from the original production or the 25th Anniversary UK tour. The production  design was enhanced with a multi-level set to accommodate the 500-member cast,  orchestra and choir. In lieu of the  building of the barricade, the massive lighting tracks descended and tilted  complemented by spectacular lighting effects. Video projections from the stage version added further drama to replace scenes  that could not be conveyed in a concert environment. Overall only minor cuts were made from the full theatrical version – and none of the cuts particularly hurt the  final product.

Due to the  constraints of a concert production, and the fact that this was being filmed for both cinema and DVD release the actors had obviously been told to rein in the theatrics. Several of the ensemble  were on the verge of acting out the roles they had either played before or were currently playing in the West End in full theatricality if not for the  reminder of the microphone in front of them.

A highlight of the evening was the  appearance of The Four Valjeans (above l-r); Simon Bowman (Queen’s  Theatre cast), Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson (the  original cast) and John Owen-Jones (Barbican  Theatre cast) their version of “Bring Him Home” was utterly moving. Each of the four are supremely gifted performers. I love this musical, it really does have the power to move you. I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eye at the end of this and I urge anyone who gets the chance to go and see it on stage.

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