The Golden Age of Broadway – Richard Balcombe and BBC Concert Orchestra

South Pacific – Overture
Annie Get Your Gun – There’s No Business Like Showbusiness
Gershwin & Porter [arr. Richard Balcombe]
The Rhythm’s Alright with Me
Medely of: I Got Rhythm from Girl Crazy and It’s Alright With Me from Can Can
Anything Goes – You’re the Top
Babes in Arms – My Funny Valentine
Oklahoma! – Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Carousel – (When I Marry) Mister Snow
South Pacific – Some Enchanted Evening; This Nearly Was Mine
On Your Toes – Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
Gigi – Overture
My Fair Lady – Show Me, On the Street Where You Live; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face
Oh, Kay! – Someone to Watch Over Me
Shall We Dance – Promenade (Walking the Dog)
Guys and Dolls – Luck Be a Lady
The Most Happy Fella – Joey, Joey, Joey
Very Warm for May – All the Things You Are
High Society – You’re Sensational
Meet Me in St Louis – The Trolley Song
High Society – Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Louise Dearman, Katie Hall, Nadim Naaman, Jamie Parker, Clarke Peters (singers)

BBC Concert Orchestra
Richard Balcombe

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 31 July, 2021
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

There can be no better way to celebrate a return after an absence than with a nostalgic look back to yesteryear and, even though Broadway only came to the Proms in 1989, show tunes have become a favourite staple of the Proms since then, most notably in the collections and then complete performances under John Wilson.  The return of the showstoppers on this occasion was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra under West-End show veteran Richard Balcombe and together they rose to the occasion to bring The Golden Age of Broadway to life, with a little help from some friends.

From a Polynesian forbidden volcanic island – the theme for Bali Hai opens Richard Rodgers’s Overture to South Pacific which opened the concert – to his Oklahoma! (1943), which provided the stirring encore, this Prom was not just a nostalgic glance back, but a whistle-stop tour across the globe and even further back in time, encapsulating just over three decades of all-singing, all-dancing musicals from 1926’s Oh, Kay! from the Gershwins, to Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi in 1958, which gives the game away: this also celebrated Hollywood musicals too, as Gigi was not the only one conceived for the screen.  David Benedict’s programme notes were packed with gems of information, both of stage and screen to guide us through the seamlessly presented concert (bar a few gaps for continuity announcing to introduce the next piece).

After sultry South Pacific – what else could open such a concert? – it could only be ‘There’s No Business Show Business’, collegiately rendered by Katie Hall, Louise Dearman, Nadim Naaman and Jamie Parker, socially distanced (and masked as they entered and left).  Apart from two duos immediately following – a neat concision by Balcombe himself of ‘I Got Rhythm’ (Dearman) and ‘It’s Alright With Me’(Parker) – and ‘You’re the Top’ (Hall and Naaman), it was largely solos, with a fifth soloist Clarke Peters making his mark in each half.  In the first, he became an older Emile De Beque in a heartfelt ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ to Parker’s Emile in ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific. In the second half, Peters was Guy Masterson, dice in hand, appealing for ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight’ from Loesser’s Guys and Dolls

There were discoveries (for me, at any rate) along the way – I’d only known Loesser as a one-hit wonder with Guys and Dolls, so Naaman’s rendition of ‘Joey, Joey, Joey’ from Loesser’s quasi-operatic The Most Happy Fella (1956) was a find and a treat.  Similarly, the harmonically recalcitrant ‘All the Things You Are’ (withholding the major key to the last word of the song) from Kern’s last Broadway show, Very Warm for May was novel, charmingly sung by Hall.  Vincente Minnelli, who directed Very Warm for May, was referenced twice more in the second half for two of his films: Gigi and Meet Me in St. Louis, with Louse Dearman transporting us back to over a century ago in Judy Garland’s breakthrough ‘The Trolley Song’.

Packed with a string of favourites, for the audience to tap their toes or rock back and forth to, Balcombe had carefully selected arrangements – some the original (many, of course, by Robert Russel Bennett), but others from later incarnations, such as the likes of Buddy Bergman’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ and Nelson Riddle’s from High Society, which he did for Sinatra (Parker making a more than passable imitation).  Riddle also was heard in his orchestration of Gershwin’s ‘Walking the Dog’ from the Hollywood film Shall We Dance, with standout slinky solo from clarinettist Fiona Cross.

The BBC Concert Orchestra had the stage to itself in that, as well as the two overtures that began each half, and the dramatic ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ from On Your Toes that ended the first half, adding a little tension and danger to an otherwise joyful and hugely enjoyable Prom.  

Filmed for broadcast on BBC Four on August 7.

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