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Musical theatre hasn’t had much cause for celebration this past year, nor the Proms, which were moved online in 2020. Thankfully, both are now reunited with live audiences, as jubilantly demonstrated at Saturday night’s Broadway bonanza. In fact, the opening number There’s No Business Like Show Business felt made for this moment, marking as it does the turbulent highs and lows, and “the audience that lifts you when you’re down.”
This programme of “Golden Age” Broadway composers – the leading voices of the 1930s to 1950s, such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Frederick Loewe – were represented by an artful mix of favourites and delightful curios. The latter included George Gershwin’s Promenade, written for a scene in the 1937 Astaire/Rogers film Shall We Dance, featuring dog-walkers aboard an ocean liner.
That Promenade supplied a jaunty solo for clarinettist Fiona Cross, and this evening as a whole offered a fantastic showcase for the BBC Concert Orchestra, under the assured baton of Richard Balcombe, from the lush strings and shimmering harp in the romantic South Pacific to the dramatic percussion in On Your Toes’ Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.
Occasionally the orchestra overwhelmed the singers, particularly in the more contemplative pieces. That limited their choices: Louise Dearman’s My Funny Valentine and Someone to Watch Over Me lacked vulnerability, though she fared better with The Trolley Song, a peppy Judy Garland classic.
It’s tricky, too, when these numbers are shorn of their narrative context. Jamie Parker, however – who really could have been a Golden Age crooner – gave a master class in acting through song. Familiar as the face of Harry Potter in the original West End cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, here he treasured the wonder of love in Some Enchanted Evening, smouldered irresistibly in You’re Sensational, and encapsulated Henry Higgins’s character arc in I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face: from smug, vindictive self-assurance to bewilderment that some woman had demolished all of his emotional defences.
A savvy producer should cast Parker in a My Fair Lady revival immediately, along with the creamy-voiced soprano Katie Hall, a perfectly exasperated Eliza in Show Me. Hall also brought a bubbly playfulness to You’re the Top, beautiful conviction to All the Things You Are, and comic charm to (When I Marry) Mister Snow.
The charismatic Nadim Naaman’s Oh, What A Beautiful Morning! had boundless joy, and he managed to bolster My Fair Lady’s drippiest song, On the Street Where You Live. The American actor Clarke Peters paced the stage, engaging the whole auditorium in his soulful This Nearly Was Mine and thrilling Luck Be a Lady.
Best of all, this Prom whets the appetite for shows that are now actually on offer, including Anything Goes at the Barbican, South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre and Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Show business is back, and in full swing.
Prom 2: The Golden Age of Broadway airs on BBC Two on Aug 7