Broadway in Concert at the London Palladium.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Having spotted a number of people sporting black Matt Cardle UK tour hoodies in the front rows before curtain up, it was pretty obvious that said Mr Cardle, along with the other performers joining him on the revered London Palladium stage – Lee Mead, Ben Forster, Sophie Evans and Kerry Ellis – would have an audience ready and willing to lap up their collective, undisputed talents pretty much from the word go.
A major bonus was that this Broadway in Concert production had the backing of the immaculately presented Novello Orchestra, fronted by the impressive and charismatic David Mahoney of the classical Brit Award-winning Only Men Aloud and a man who is positively effervescent in his enthusiasm for a rousing score, a great tune and a skilled vocalist through which to channel his devotion to the musical cause.
With a Sweet Charity overture setting the musical mood, it was down to Evans to break the musical ice with ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ (Hairspray), which she managed with consummate ease.
Quite whether such shows have an unofficial billing is never that clear, but the impression was that diplomacy had prevailed here and Cardle, Evans, Forster, Mead and Ellis would, quite literally, ‘share’ the stage, just enjoy performing with one another and put any egos aside – and the show definitely benefitted from an level artistic playing field.
Cue then the aforementioned hoody-wearers getting highly excited as Cardle took to the stage. If ‘Memphis Lives in Me’, was a joy, then his cover of Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ was a brave choice and beautifully delivered, and of course, a reminder to the many different generations in the audience of what an incredible voice Freddie Mercury had.
Of course, audiences at such gatherings pretty much demand renditions of musical evergreen classics like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, Evans looking highly comfortable with both.
Performing at the London Palladium can give performers the jitters – try telling that to Lee Mead. Looking like a stroll in the park for the experienced, versatile West End star, even sharing some banter with Mahoney for good measure, his first appearance for a couple of numbers was a musical masterclass.
Adding Mead’s vocal, professional chemistry to Evans’ charm for ‘Last Night of the World’, produced a touching musical moment, before the audience at last got the chance to join in with ‘Any Dream Will Do’ (Joseph). Mead was, obviously, on very assured ground, Joseph being just one credit on his impressive West End CV to date.
Like with Cardle, the house clearly contained many Kerry Ellis fans, and there was no way she was going to disappoint them. With the stage bathed in a green glow and the Novello Orchestra playing the intro, Ellis entered the stage, dressed in black and dressed to thrill. Performing ‘Defying Gravity’ (Wicked), she had the Palladium rocking, Mahoney almost in raptures and the audience in musical seventh heaven. An ensemble sing-a-long to ‘Ease On Down the Road’ (from The Wiz) was a great, feelgood finisher.
As to the real standout moment of the evening, that had come a little earlier – a simply quite extraordinary performance from Forster, putting every possible ounce of vocal, physical and artistic effort into a cover of ‘Gethsemane’ (Jesus Christ Superstar).
It’s a long time since I have witnessed such total professional immersion into a single song. Currently playing the lead in The Phantom of the Opera, if this performance is anything to go by, he is surely superb.
Unfortunately, given the show’s constant popularity, I’ve probably got more chance of being crushed by a chandelier than of getting tickets, but if he performs in the iconic role anything like he did at the Palladium, I certainly won’t mind queuing up for any returns.