Sunday 30th November 2014
Having been fans of the Royal Academy of Music musical theatre student shows for some time, we were delighted to discover that there would be a twentieth anniversary concert – it would be a chance to see students new and old and a tribute to the two most instrumental figures in the history of the Musical Theatre department – Karen Rabinowitz and Mary Hammond. We were promised a musical extravaganza and we weren’t disappointed. With the RAM’s own massive concert orchestra, the well-established concert choir expanded with alumni to form a 100-strong choir under Stephen Hill’s direction, and a rich selection of soloists drawn from current students, recent graduates and established West End stars, we were in for a treat.
The programme was genuinely eclectic, moving from the ‘Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ with truly spine-tingling crescendos of cacophony from the choir (well, it is Sondheim), to mass African chanting for the ‘Circle of Life’ featuring Laura Tebbutt, to small scale cabaret numbers under the direction of George Hall, including two of our old favourites, ‘Maud’ performed by a convincingly sozzled George Dyer, and a reprise of Michelle Whitney’s turn as the cleaner who wants to be a ‘Moo-vie star’. Add in the comedic talents of Vikki Stone whose co-compere Julia Mackenzie was unfortunately unwell, and we had a pacy evening full of musical and comic treats which went by all too quickly.
Shona White opened proceedings appropriately enough with ‘Magic to Do’, and later delivered a terrific rendition of ‘What I Did for Love’, while Patrick Smyth brought us an energetic and witty ‘Rhythm of Life’, complete with mass choreography from the choir, and came back to give us a storming ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’. A particular treat for us was to hear Stephen Ashfield performing a song from Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins, one of those under-rated musical gems. Backed by a full orchestra and harmonica from Noa Bodner, ‘How Glory Goes’ sounded as haunting as ever, and brought a note of mournful beauty to the show. The ‘Primary Academy Choir’ put in an appearance too – part of the Junior Academy programme, these under 12s are the future of the profession, and hopefully they got a taste for performing on the Prince Edward Theatre stage.
Just to show how far the influence of the ‘Royal Academy of Music’ has spread, we had a video-taped appearance from Chris Martin, one of Mary Hammond’s vocal pupils. In a hilariously self-deprecating tribute, he bemoaned his failure to gain recognition after years of lessons before performing a song that Mary had frequently ‘told him he can’t sing’ – ‘Fix you’. His simple piano and vocal performance was gradually augmented by the live musicians on stage until choir and orchestra raised this already anthemic song to even grander proportions. We’re not sure how Mary felt (‘Oh no, not that song again!’?) but what an original and musically apt way to pay tribute.
Directed by Paul Warwick Griffin, with music direction by Bjorn Dobbelaere, current head of department, every aspect of this show seemed to have been lovingly crafted, whether the choice of songs, the casting and combining of experienced performers and students, and the musical arrangements and adaptations. They clearly had many enthusiastic helpers on hand happy to be involved. This show was classy and thoroughly entertaining and a timely and heartening reminder of what it is all about – doing one thing really well. Happy Birthday RAM, and we wish you another twenty years of musical theatre delights!