It was such a treat to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presents the Best of Broadway; a one-night only live performance of well-known musical theatre numbers. This included some of my personal favourites such as the Circle of Life from the Lion King and Kander and Ebb’s Chicago Overture. If I were to dissect what I love most about seeing a good musical, it would be listening to a full orchestra perform a score. However woefully in many theatres today, it is rare to have a full orchestra in the pit. So to hear an outstanding orchestra fill the grand Royal Albert Hall with delicious melodies made my heart swell.
I have always found there to be something magical about the live performance of an orchestra. Something about watching the synchronised bow movements in the string section, being treated to clever yet subtle orchestrations and the collective energy of musicians come together and use their talent to evoke certain emotions within you, just leaves me with tingles. This concert was the first time I’ve heard the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra live and I’m in awe of their talent and versatility. The musical theatre numbers covered a diverse range of genres from the rock score of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, the jazz score of Chicago, to the pop score of Mamma Mia and they tackled each one so impressively. The conductor, David Firman, was great at the helm particularly when some of the vocalists took an unexpected turn with the timing. I particularly enjoyed watching David get swept up in the music and start emphatically mouthing some of the lyrics.
My favourite part was Jule Styne’s fantastic Gypsy Overture, which was well placed at the beginning of the night. It is a big juicy number that engages all the different sections of the orchestra. I have listened to the recording of it multiple times and listening to it live made me want to bounce along to the different rhythms, wave my hands like I’m the conductor and do the ‘air – violin’ (and the air-double bass and air-drums and air-saxophone). But as I was in public I had to do my best to restrain myself!
There were four accompanying vocalists and the standout performer for me was Ria Jones. I feel a tinge of regret for missing the most recent West End revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. But luckily I was able to catch a small fragment of it as Ria performed a world-class rendition of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’. The conductor shared the story that when Glenn Close fell ill during the show’s run earlier this year, Ria finally had to the chance to play the lead role in the West End after waiting for 25 years to do so. It was a moment where the vocalist and the orchestra came together so beautifully and left me with chills and received a well-deserved extended applause from the audience.
My thoughts on the vocalists in general are mixed. The four singers were clearly talented and well-established performers. However I felt that they were perhaps too overwhelming (and it didn’t help that I was sat fairly close to the speakers). I longed for the Orchestra to take centre stage but instead felt that they were over-powered by the singers. In the worst moments, the vocalists were joined by the lady singing loudly next to me. However this did make me savour the musical interludes in the numbers even more such as in Electricity from Billy Elliot. But if possible I would have liked there to have been more songs without the vocalists and just heard the Orchestra perform and soak up the spotlight.
The song choices overall were smart and a good mix of crowd favourites and classics. The night ended with a medley from the well-loved hits in ABBA’s Mamma Mia. At first I was skeptical whether this classified as the ‘Best of Broadway’. However the music is so feel-good that it had the audience up on its feet by the end, and demanding an encore performance of ‘Thank You for the Music’. I was delighted to see the orchestra join in the dancing, including the double bassists who I noticed were twirling their instruments!
It was humbling to be in the presence of people that appreciated good musical theatre songs. I sometimes feel like a lone voice in my admiration for musicals and have found it hard to find a community of West End Musical Theatre lovers. So I was glad to see people of different ages leave the venue and gush about how much they enjoyed the experience. So thank you Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, for that one night, you made this crazy musical theatre nerd incredibly happy.