Kings of Broadway was performed at the Palace Theatre, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Only five weeks after a glittering 85th birthday concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane came another Sondheim tribute at the Palace Theatre, this time also celebrating two other Kings of Broadway: the show tune champion Jerry Herman, composer of Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles, and the late British born Jule Styne, whose two greatest achievements – Gypsy and Funny Girl – could lately be seen together in London for the first time.
Interestingly, apart from the overture, played by a terrific 30-piece orchestra conducted by Alex Parker who also produced the show (with director Alastair Knights), there were no songs at all from Gypsy (the Chichester Festival Theatre production’s hugely successful run at the Savoy has just come to a close).
However, Funny Girl – an already sold out revival officially opens this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory prior to a West End transfer – got the full treatment here, starting with a sizzling rendition of ‘I’m the Greatest Star’ from the current Eponine in Les Miserables, Emma Kingston. The show was also represented by ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade, perhaps to me the greatest and most unique musical theatre song ever written, as part of the cleverly arranged Act I closing medley, and a heartfelt and highly personal rendition of the popular standard, ‘People’.
Funny Girl overshadowed other lesser-known Styne gems such as ‘If You Hadn’t, But You Did’ from Two On the Aisle; ‘Let’s See What Happens’ from Darling of the Day, given a lovely pas de deux treatment with Anna O’Byrne and Jack North; and ‘Being Good Isn’t Good Enough’ from the underrated Hallelujah, Baby!, for which Styne won his only Tony. Styne Broadway classics Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bells Are Ringing were equally well represented with two and three songs respectively.
Jerry Herman was well served with Janie Dee in cheerful form appropriately opening the show with ‘It’s Today’ from Mame, sadly one of the only fully choreographed numbers of the evening.
The Voice contestant and Les Misérables cast member Jordan Lee Davies delivered a showstopping ‘I Am What I Am’ (La Cage aux Folles) and Laura Pitt-Pulford and Caroline O’Connor also shone in two unforgettable Mack and Mabel numbers: ‘Wherever He Ain’t and ‘Time Heals Everything’.
It was also good to hear rarely performed songs such as ‘Almost Young’ from Herman’s TV musical Mrs Santa Claus as delivered by the indomitable Anne Reid and James Bolam.
Of course two Dolly numbers – ‘Before the Parade Passes By’, as part of the Parade medley, and ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ – were perfect choices for Act I and II finales, the latter freshly delivered by an exuberant Jack North who was then joined by the entire company.
Sondheim also deservedly got his share of the spotlight with so many highlights to savour. Richard Fleeshman’s ‘Buddy’s Blues’, Caroline O’Connor’s ‘Broadway Baby’ and Janie Dee’s ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ among those which were particularly memorable.
The inclusion of ‘Maria’ (West Side Story) allowed us to see an outstanding performance from Bradley Jaden, together with Alistair Brammer’s emotional delivery of ‘Johanna’ (Sweeney Todd), one of the only male gems in an evening otherwise dominated by female performers.
All in all a highly satisfying evening of musical theatre with some terrific arrangements, a stellar cast and a brilliant orchestra. Boy do we need more of these…
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – Richard Fleeshman celebrates the Kings of Broadway