West London Synagogue, London
Musical Director: Simon Sharp
|The ornate Sanctuary at West London Synagogue|
In a grand Victorian setting and amongst a community famous for challenging conventional orthodoxy, so did the West London Synagogue's Sanctuary play host to a seasonal cracker of a concert from The London Gay Mens Chorus. Coinciding with both the festival of Chanuka and World Aids Day, the evening’s programme ranged from showtunes to Jewish liturgy, all centered around a theme of remembrance and hope.
Opening with Mah Tovu, a prayer drawn from the Old Testament that speaks of inclusivity and blessing, the choir was impressive. Under Simon Sharp’s baton they had mastered both the Hebrew language and the traditionally inspired melody and gave a rare ethereal beauty to words that are a standard component of nearly every synagogue service.
Broadway featured significantly amongst the numbers and notwithstanding the widely reported Jewish legacy that underlies so many famous shows, surely not even the (kosher) duo of Lerner and Loewe could have dreamed that one day their Get Me To The Church On Time would be beautifully performed and with no loss of irony: firstly, in a synagogue; secondly, by a choir of gay men; and thirdly, as a tacit celebration of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. As a nod to their hosts, the Chorus gave the song a cheeky rewrite, changing the final verse to get me to the Shul on time!
Community soloist and sole female singer Maya Levy was then to give a sweet soprano lead to You’ll Never Walk Alone and as the West London Synagogue lit up their glitterball to accompany the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, (another synagogue first?), the predominantly Jewish/gay audience could be forgiven a brief shmaltzy indulgence. Closing the Broadway tribute, a small ensemble gave a fine performance of What I Did For Love from A Chorus Line, one of many songs that on this particular night suggested a far deeper poignancy.
Throughout the programme Sharp shared the conducting with Chris Pethers and when the Chorus sung the traditional Israeli number Hava Nagila, not only did it beg the question as to why no musical has yet included this absolute roof-raiser of a song, but the massed singers’ verve and energy suggested that both men were but a hair’s breadth away from being borne aloft and paraded around the hall in a traditional Israeli dance.
Not just a celebration of diversity and inclusion, the music and singing on the night was fantastic. The event deserves a reprise and when it happens, don’t miss it.