Jule Styne Gala

Songs by Jule Styne

Kim Criswell (vocalist/director)

Anna-Jane Casey & Ron Raines (vocalists)

BBC Concert Orchestra
Kevin Farrell


Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 23 September, 2004
Venue: Hackney Empire, London

Billed as “from Bethnal Green to Broadway”, many of the Hackney Empire audience seemed surprised that the composer of showstoppers such as “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and “Ev’rything’s coming up Roses” was a local lad. Born on 31 December 1905, Julius Stein moved with his family to America when he was only 6. Later in 1932 he changed his name to Jule (pronounced Julie) Styne to avoid confusion with Dr Julius Stein who was head of the Music Corporation of America.

Kim Criswell we may almost call British since her move to London some years ago. Her direction of the night’s proceedings was in the manner of an evangelical supporter of the composer and not merely a singer of his songs. Criswell was joined by Ron Raines, one of America’s leading musical-theatre performers, and, for me, Anna-Jane Casey proved a real discovery. She has a long line of theatre successes and made her West End debut aged 16 in “Cats”. Her smile is infectious and she has a voice as convincing in heartfelt standards like “The Party’s Over” as when proclaiming “I am just a Little Girl from Little Rock” – ex US presidents take heed!

The format of the concert was much like a revue with each member of the trio taking suitable parts to form a cohesive presentation rather than rigidly sticking to numbers in a chronological or ‘show’ order. This worked well; each of the singers took more or less equal shares of the limelight, though some perhaps more equal than others with Kim Criswell seeming to take the lion’s share of the ‘big’ numbers. That wasn’t a problem – her voice is capable of diverse qualities from the deep mellow tones of Barbara Streisand to the grit of Ethel Merman. Her rendition of “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”, the only real hit from the 1944 show “Glad to See You”, earned an ovation as did “Don’t Rain on my Parade”.

As vocalist, the weakest link was Ron Raines. Clearly an actor first, his manner and elegance was debonair but his voice lacked control. “Just in time” brought back memories of crooners at a student ball. “How do you speak to an Angel” came across better, despite the lack of orchestral parts and a false start.

The BBC Concert Orchestra was seated on stage behind the soloists who sung with microphones, the latter not something that everyone thinks necessary. There is, though, a tradition of Broadway musical-theatre, going back to the 1960s, of musicians are amplified. It’s not always the case and some contemporary performers, such as George Dvorsky, who often sing without a microphone. On the whole it has become accepted that a well-amplified voice allows the vocalist to add personal expression that is not possible without the aid of a microphone.

With a final flurry of songs from Hollywood including the Oscar-winning “Three Coins in the Fountain”, the curtain fell. Jule Styne, who died almost 10 years ago to the day, had returned to the East End.



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