Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics: Review
Olympics 2012: London Mayor Boris Johnson Busts a Move to the Spice Girls (Video)
The show might have wrapped with The Who performing “My Generation,” but the celebration of British popular music that capped off the London Olympics had something for every generation of the past half-century or more. Sure to be regarded as a wonderfully chaotic treasure trove by some and a hot mess by others with a taste for more regimented spectacle, it was an exuberant after-party to 16 days of international athletic competition. Most of all, it echoed the fun, freewheeling spirit and quirky humor established by director Danny Boyle in his divisive opening ceremony.
Artistic director of the three-hour closing show was former ballet dancer Kim Gavin, who larded the event with dance-troupe interludes – some more inventive and seamlessly interwoven than others. (Does anyone still need to see the Stomp ensemble punishing trash-can lids at this point?) But the driving force in a show titled A Symphony of British Music naturally was the music itself. And while purists will no doubt cry sacrilege about a game Russell Brand covering The Beatles, this all-star mix of live and pre-recorded music was a major crowdpleaser.
The show opened on a gorgeous set, with replicas of London’s famous monuments dotting the Olympic Stadium arena across artist Damien Hirst’s stylized representation of the Union Jack – all of it wrapped in newspaper covered with quotes from Britain’s great works of literature. A Day in the Life of London then unfolded, from morning rush hour through nightfall. A choral performance of The Beatles’ “Because” segued into Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour” led by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, which gave way to actor Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, busting through the top of Big Ben to recite the same passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest that was the defining motif of Boyle’s opener.
Many typically playful touches registered as just the briefest of throwaways, notably the performers wielding jackhammers to kick off the British national anthem. (Prince Harry and Kate Middleton were an appropriately youthful choice for royal duty at the ceremony.)
Many non-Brits might have been scratching their heads over a mixed-reference nod to the classic 1969 caper comedy The Italian Job and to nationally beloved sitcom Only Fools and Horses, in which a low-rent Batman & Robin tumbled out of a yellow Robin Reliant (one of an endless series of iconic Brit autos featured in the show). This occurred as Madness got the party started with “Our House.” Then came The Massed Bands of the Household Division in their tall bearskin hats performing Blur’s “Parklife.” The Pet Shop Boys followed singing “West End Girls,” looking like wacky wizards on sculptural orange rickshaws. As a concession to the younger demographic, boy-band sensation One Direction performed “What Makes You Beautiful” while The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” led into The Kinks frontman Ray Davies doing “Waterloo Sunset.” As a tribute to the Olympics host city, this section was a joy.
With gymnastics-dance troupe Spellbound and other performers bouncing all over the arena like a Cirque du Soleil training camp, plus color-coded partiers bopping along, there was invariably too much on which to focus. But overkill at these types of ceremonies is not necessarily a bad thing.