|John Owen-Jones giving it everything at the Hippodrome|
For over 15 years John Owen-Jones name has been inextricably linked with those two Cameron Mackintosh behemoths, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Very few can match the combined performance count of the youngest ever Jean Valjean and the longest running West End Phantom.
So it is perhaps unsurprising that his cabaret evening at the Hippodrome centred around his Mackintosh years, both in terms of song choices and in repartee with the audience, in which he revealed his (feigned) animosity for the ‘younger, better looking’ Ramin Karimloo. Backed by an excellent seven piece band under musical director John Quirk, we were treated to ‘Music of the Night’, ‘Bring Him Home’, a fine rendition of ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ - Love Never Dies’ stand out song – and the recent addition to the Les Mis songlist, ‘Suddenly’. And the epic musical theatre anthems didn’t end there, with ‘This is the Moment’ and ‘Anthem’ also getting outings. It is easy, I suppose, to be sniffy at such a list of over-performed classics, but it was clear that this was what the audience had come to hear, and very few people can sing them better than Owen-Jones.
It did mean, however, that there was a slightly relentless quality to much of the evening which wasn’t helped by how loudly both singer and band were miked for the relatively small room. Owen-Jones has a wonderful, powerful voice, and he could have been miked a quarter less loud and still easily have carried above the band. It may have been giving the audience what they wanted, but at times one was left wishing for an introspective moment, if only to give the ear drums a rest!
And in fact, what introspective moments there were, were very lovely. Queen’s ‘Love of My Life’ (accompanied only by a solo guitar), the Bacharach-esque ‘Dangling’ by Maury Yeston, and Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ were all beautifully sung highlights.
Aside from his years on the West End, the one other key influence on the night was made clear the moment he opened his mouth to speak: ‘In case you don’t know…I’m Welsh!’ he cheerfully announced. And easily the best moments of the night were the two songs from the back catalogue of his great hero, Tom Jones. Both ‘Thunderball’ and ‘Delilah’ were delivered with such a joyous relish and vocal power that suddenly the sound levels felt exactly right. Relentless it may have been at times, but when the singing is that good, who’s complaining?