Left - David Shannon. Cover - Jacinta Whyte.
The Best of the West End presented by MSO Pops was the most fun I, and I think many audience members, have had in a long time.
Never having been to an MSO Pops Concert before, I was a little unsure of what to expect. However, it was obvious on stepping into the Hamer Hall that the MSO Pops series is nothing like the refined, cultured, don’t clap at the wrong time or I’ll clap you MSO series. Note: At an MSO Pops concert, clapping at the ‘wrong’ time means you are enjoying yourself (however, I would recommend some audience members take a quick look at the frequently asked questions on the Arts Centre website!).
The atmosphere in the auditorium, and on the stage, was one of relaxed pleasure and joy - a celebration of the best of London’s musical theatre offerings presented by the West End’s own Jacinta Whyte and David Shannon, and conductor Nick Davies. Crowd favourites such as Oliver!, Mary Poppins, Anything Goes, and The Lion King were all on the menu, along with Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, and Sweeny Todd. However, the focus was on the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, with memorable excerpts from Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Phantom of the Opera.
Davies opened the evening, and set the tone of the performance, with a little rehearsed patter before leading the MSO through the Oliver! Symphonic Suite - establishing the atmosphere and excitement of a musical theatre overture with little tempting tastes of what was in store. Despite limited rehearsal time, Davies skilfully directed the accomplished MSO Pops Orchestra. Symphonic suites and overtures, including Cats and Sunset Boulevard, were littered throughout the performance in order to highlight the orchestral talents, with the obvious crowd favourite being the overture from the Superman musical (yes, it exists), It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. The enjoyment, amusement, and satisfaction of the players was tangible as they beat out the powerhouse of musical tunes. I must note Steve Reeves, the principal double bass player seated closest to the audience, whose energy and liveliness in playing was thrilling to watch – in particular, when playing an excerpt from Webber’s Cats, he seemed to turn into one, as he sneaked down the finger board of his bass and bobbed along to the bass line.
On vocals, Jacinta Whyte and David Shannon brought to life the solos and duets (the predictable, but very awkward kiss was unnecessary!) so well known to any musical theatre buff. Whyte oozed confidence and self-assurance as she belted out tunes from Evita, Oliver!, Les Mis, and good old ‘Memory’ from Cats. However, her voice, at times, seemed uncertain, with a distinct wobble pervading all of the quieter ballads, and her ‘cute’, bum wobbling characterisations, lacking the maturity of her age. The show-stopping ‘Blow Gabriel, Blow’ from Anything Goes, however, illustrated Whyte’s vocal power and strength, providing glimpses of her status as one of The Best of the West End. The four super sequinned sparkly gowns also deserve a mention – I’m not sure I have seen so many sequins in one night, but it added perfectly to the atmosphere by evoking images of the bright lights of neon signs on the West End.
David Shannon’s velvety vocal performance confirmed that he is truly one of the West End’s finest. Singing selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, Sweeny Todd, Miss Saigon, and The Phantom of the Opera, Shannon had a charismatically commanding stage presence (only upstaged by that one hell of an enthusiastic bass player!) characterised by a steely stare. The highlight of his performance was ‘Music of the Night’ from The Phantom of the Opera, which received uproarious applause from the captivated audience.
The obviously rehearsed and anticipated encore was the highlight and climax of the night’s performances, with ‘We are the Champions!’ from We Will Rock You encouraging audience participation. And participate they (ok, we) did, the Hamer Hall was filled with the singing and chanting of the anthem – complete with arm waving, head-bobbing, air violin-playing, laughing, smiling, and pure simple pleasure.
With so much enjoyment created simply from music – the MSO Pops really are champions.
The Best Of The West End
Nick Davies conductor
Jacinta Whyte vocalist
David Shannon vocalist
Venue: the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall
Dates/Times: Saturday 6 September at 7pm; Sunday 7 September at 2pm
Bookings: 1300 136 166 or www.mso.com.au