Monday 30 November 2015

Kings Of Broadway - Review

Palace Theatre, London


Directed by Alastair Knights
Conducted by Alex Parker

James Bolam and Anne Reid

Christmas came early to the West End last night, for just like Max Bialystock, Mel Brooks’ legendary king of Broadway, Alex Parker has done it again with his own Kings Of Broadway. Though where Bialystock famously flopped, yet again this remarkable conductor cum impresario succeeded spectacularly in mounting a one-night only extravaganza of the work of Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman. Either Parker has amassed a multitude of favours to call in, or, and this is far more likely, he has simply earned the respect of an army of talented professionals including a 30-piece(!) orchestra and a cast of stellar proportions, to put on a concert that proved to be as polished as it was entertaining.

Reprising a partnership that worked well for the recent A Little Night Music, Alastair Knights again directed, with Parker remaining strictly on the baton. This time around however, Knights was assisted by Emma Annetts’ choreography, an addition that only enhanced the show. Staged only amidst a small space to the front of the on-stage orchestra, and with all the performers pleasingly “off-book” the whole occasion was really rather splendid. In a nod to Broadway’s Golden Age, and with Imelda Staunton’s spectacular Gypsy having closed only the night before, Parker got the evening underway with that show’s overture (abbreviated) delivered with panache and flair. 

The night was packed with riches. In a duet that was to stun the packed Palace, the accomplished Anne Reid and James Bolam performed Jerry Herman’s Almost Young from the little known Mrs Santa Claus. Who knew Bolam could sing? And even if this likely lad wasn’t quite pitch perfect, to see these two national treasures singing side by side re-defined the phrase “northern powerhouse”.

Knights and Annetts were at their best in their arrangements for female ensembles. The first half was to close with a medley of “parade” themed numbers that featured Caroline Sheen offering Before The Parade Passes By, Zoe Doano singing Parade In Town and Celinde Schoenmaker storming her way through Don’t Rain On My Parade, the three women creating an exquisite harmony. 

Towards the end of the second half a phenomenal female five-some left the audience stunned as Sheen smashed If from Two On The Aisle, Anne Reid was divine with And I Was Beautiful whilst Janie Dee came close to making everybody rise with a scorching Ladies Who Lunch. Caroline O’Connor (London’s original Mabel from nearly 20 years ago) brought a heartfelt nuance to Time Heals Everything, whilst completing this quintet the ever excellent Laura Pitt-Pulford (who is arguably the best Mabel we’ve seen this century) delivered her own particular version of excellence with a thrilling take on Funny Girl’s People. 

In an evening festooned with sparkling performances, Laura Tebbutt’s Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend proved another treat whilst Jordan Lee Davis’ glamorously frocked interpretation of I Am What I Am was mostly excellent – but when we see Davis do this number again (and let’s hope we do) he needs to give more of a belt to the song’s spectacular build-up.

A novel twist saw Jamie Parker and real life wife Deborah Crowe play the Baker and his Wife from Into The Woods, whilst the impressively maned Bradley Jaden sang West Side Story’s Maria with a perfect and rugged fidelity. A mention too for Andy Conaghan’s Mack, singing Movies Were Movies and to Richard Fleeshman who gave a whole new slant (literally) to Buddy’s Blues.

Two impressive ensemble numbers wrapped the show up. A gorgeous Being Alive stunned with its group harmonics, before Jack North led the entire company in Hello Dolly's Put On Your Sunday Clothes. 

To be fair, this review only mentions a selection of the musical theatre talent that Parker and Wrights had assembled – there was much, much more on stage and London (or maybe a tour, producers take note) surely deserves nights like these to run for longer. The Kings Of Broadway demonstrated not only excellence in execution, but also a meticulous approach in its planning and arranging, with Parker’s attention to orchestral detail, evident in the cleverly tailored number-linking segues, a craft in itself.

Here’s to his next event. Everybody rise.

Photo credit: Darren Bell

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