Daniel Koek performed at The Pheasantry, London.
Star rating: 4 stars ****
Having recently left the cast of Les Misérables as one of the longest serving Valjeans, Daniel Koek’s first live gig of 2015 afforded a rare opportunity to experience, in the intimate setting of The Pheasantry, a performance by an internationally acclaimed star of musical theatre more usually associated with venues such as the Barbican, Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall and, of course, the Queen’s Theatre.
Commencing the evening’s set with two numbers from West Side Story, Australian-born Koek’s training in both classical voice and musical theatre was immediately apparent. Having played Tony in the musical’s 50th Anniversary production, Koek seemed to shine most completely in ‘Maria’; nonetheless, ‘Something’s Coming’ proved an excellent and prophetic opener. Koek’s journey through the milestones in his career continued with ‘Where I Want to Be’, a nod to his role as The Russian in Craig Revel Horwood’s production of Chess.
The musical director for that production was none other than Greg Arrowsmith, Koek’s piano accompanist at The Pheasantry. Arrowsmith also provides orchestrations and arrangements for Koek’s latest album, HiGH, from which Koek performed several tracks in the course of the evening including a stunningly beautiful ‘February Song’ (Josh Groban). Elsewhere in the set, the actor and singer presented several of Arrowsmith’s creative mash-up style arrangements, one of which – a blending of two Billy Joel numbers, ‘And So It Goes’ and ‘She’s Always a Woman’ – likewise features on HiGH.
Maisey Bawden, a remarkable young talent with a promising future ahead of her, joined Koek onstage as the evening’s special guest. While the tango-like duet ‘What is It About Her?’ (The Wild Party) seemed to showcase one artist more than the other, in the second half of the set Bawden demonstrated favourable comparison with Koek, matching his vocals in dramatic and emotional intensity in ‘I’d Give It All For You’ (Songs For a New World) as well as delivering a solo number of her own.
Other highlights of Koek’s set include the poignantly performed ‘Feels Like Home’ (Randy Newman’s Faust) as well as ‘And the Rain Keeps Falling Down’ from Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. Koek’s interpretations of songs from Jekyll & Hyde, not least ‘This is the Moment’, particularly seemed to bring the house down. And, in a welcome homage to his most recent theatrical role, it seemed absolutely fitting to finish with a delightful performance of ‘Bring Him Home’ (which, on Koek’s album, features harmonies sung by Jonathan Ansell).
Between the careful attention Koek pays to every single note and his breathtaking pyrotechnics in the upper register, his exceptional vocal talents really have to be heard to be believed. Possibly the links between musical numbers would have benefited from a little more directorial polish; but that takes nothing away from the evening’s potential to provide unforgettable entertainment for lay listener and musical theatre aficionado alike.
* Daniel Koek returns to The Pheasantry on 26 February.