So before I get into the meat of this look at Music Theatre Guernsey’s (MTG) The Sound Of Musicals concert-cum-show at St James Concert Hall in Guernsey I should probably point out that I was actively involved in the show until about half way through rehearsals so I had something of a preview of some of the show before opening night tonight, though in a somewhat prototype form.
That said, seeing it fully realised was certainly a large step away from how it all looked when I was last involved so, in many ways, I came to this as fresh as anyone might.
Featuring songs from 21 different musicals over two and a bit hours and with of a cast of around 50 (as well as a small orchestra) just looking at the programme this looked like quite an undertaking and MTG have done a great job wrangling this into a fine evening’s entertainment.
Across the night different songs are performed in different ways, from full ensemble numbers to solo singers, but all with minimal sets, props and costume which really focusses the audience’s attention on the performances.
(Hopefully I’ve got the right names of the performers as we go on but with so many I may have misremembered a few, so apologies if I have).
It’s also worth noting that this was designed as what MTG have described as a ‘community project’ so the show was open to anyone who wanted to appear with a real mix of experience amongst the performers and this community feeling was clear throughout and a great thing to see.
The first half started big with Be Our Guest from Beauty And The Beast with virtually the whole cast on stage and clearly having a great time which set the mood for the night very nicely.
A couple of songs from My Fair Lady followed with Get Me To The Church On Time particularly standing out and, along with Tradition from Fiddler On The Roof a bit later on, really highlighted Bob Farrell as a great fun performer.
A selection from Little Shop Of Horrors was a highlight for me as it’s a musical I love and Ben Munro and Harriet Billington were terrific as Seymour and Audrey while Sunday from Sunday In The Park With George was something entirely new to me but as a company it sounded terrific.
A real highlight of the first half was a pair of songs from The Addams Family with the full ensemble When You’re An Addams continuing the sense of fun, and big credit to Phil Midgely for still giving a good outing as Gomez despite an evident injury somewhat limiting his movement and Ben Munro channeling his past role in Frankenstein in a slightly different way.
The second of this section was Pulled, a song I’m entirely unfamiliar with, but delivered excellently as a complete solo by Dani Robin, really capturing the sense of Wednesday Addams despite the minimal setting.
Shine Like The Sun was another song I wasn’t familiar with before this, coming from the Dolly Parton musical 9 To 5 but the trio of performers who delivered the bulk of it here brought a real sense of power and empowerment to it before it climaxed with all the female ensemble on stage for a big ending which was contrasted by an immediate switch to a medley of On My Own and I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables.
One of a few highlights of the first half came with the aforementioned pair from Fiddler On The Roof. Tradition was a great big ensemble piece led by Bob Farrell but with almost the entire cast being involved in an intricate dance and vocal number before the trio piece of Matchmaker had a real sense of playful fun but with a more meaningful undercurrent coming across through the three performers too.
Alison Castle then took to the stage for an impressive solo rendition of Maria from West Side Story, the first of a couple of songs where the gender of the lead performer was swapped which was good to hear and see as it opened them up in a new way and brought something new to the songs.
This all led into a pair of songs from Elvis ‘jukebox musical’ All Shook Up with a medley of Hound Dog and Teddy Bear featuring some great character performances as well as some rock ‘n’ roll dancing before a big crescendo with the whole ensemble back on for Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.
The second half of the show was an equally varied affair starting with an almost choral version of Pure Imagination from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory which led us into the vague theme of the half very nicely.
Then we got another ‘gender swapped’ (sorry I can’t think of a better term) song with As Long As He Needs Me from Oliver! really showing off the vocal talents and performance of Aaron Shepherd, which was particularly impressive.
A trio of songs from Legally Blonde were new ones to me but all had a real life and energy that culminated with one of the highlights of the show in the hilarious Gay Or European.
After those three relatively big ensemble numbers we got a selection of more basically delivered solo and duet songs from three different musicals all of which featured stand out performers, particularly Stephen Glencross’ This Is My Moment from Jekyll And Hide and Paul Wallbridge’s Why God Why? from Miss Saigon (a musical I really need revisit after seeing it many years ago in the West End and apparently remembering almost nothing of it).
While I’m familiar with the songs I’m less familiar with the musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot and the first of the two songs here, Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), did something totally unique for the show by having it played by a trio of acoustic guitarists Dave Wheeler, Sophie Duncan and Paul Wallbridge (as well as embellishments from the orchestra and other vocalists) which was a nice change of pace for a classic song.
This was followed by the more traditionally stage 21 Guns which was another big ensemble number but it also highlighted Egita Strauta who delivered the lead part (I think called Whatsername) very nicely.
Another highlight of the second half followed with a song entirely new to me, Me And The Sky from Come From Away which was delivered fantastically by Laura Simpson and was genuinely emotionally effecting.
A couple of unfamiliar numbers from Songs From A New World followed before the show stopping finale of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) from Sunshine On Leith that gradually brought the whole cast back onto stage for the musical version of The Proclaimers’ hit single.
With the cast looking far more relaxed they tried to get the audience more involved, albeit with little success on this night which was a bit of a shame, but nonetheless it closed off a great show on a bit positive high point.
While there were a few technical issues, particularly with the microphones, across the show, for the most part these were overcome and understandable given the size of the cast and number of swaps of who was on stage when and didn’t really effect my enjoyment of the show as a whole, though being near the front meant I could still hear most of it even when the mics weren’t working as intended.
That said with some truly terrific performances from both lead performers and those in the ensemble (and certainly nothing that could be classed as bad or below par), along with some excellent live music from the small orchestra The Sound Of Musicals was a great evening’s entertainment and showcased a mixture of familiar and new faces to the stage in Guernsey and agin I’m sorry I haven’t mentioned everyone by name who was a stand out but there were a number of performers I hope we’ll see again in future productions.