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Hooray for Hollywood at the Proms with the John Wilson Orchestra

I was lucky enough to manage to get tickets for my Dad & I for what will be the musical event of the year for me –  to see the wonderful John Wilson Orchestra playing music from the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

This is Wilson’s third annual visit to the proms with his invitation orchestra and singers.  In 2009 they gave us an evening totally devoted to the MGM musicals – the scores of which Wilson and his team had had to re-create – the originals were lost.  Last year, they played Rodgers & Hammerstein. This year we got a grand tour of fifty years of Hollywood musicals with a brilliant array of songs from all the other major musical producers.

Wilson’s orchestra is something else! His handpicked orchestra produce a sound that is truly amazing.  The strings are so lush, the brass have a fantastic timbre, there’s a huge percussion section, a big band rhythm section, two pianos and two harps!  All this goes to make a truly authentic Hollywood sound and they are also the tightest orchestra I’ve seen. What’s more, all the players are really enjoying playing the music – even when they’re chugging away in the background accompanying the others.  They’re augmented by a small choir, the Maida Vale singers, who also sounded lovely.

Then there are the soloists – drawn from the world of Big bands, West End & Broadway musicals, and opera.  All were matched up with songs that showcased their own styles, and all were brilliant in their own ways.

The highlight for me was Broadway star Caroline O’Connor, who was in the Sondheim prom last summer. She sang Judy Garland’s The Man Who Got Away amongst other songs. During the encores, she did a near perfect Ethel Merman impression in There’s no business like showbusiness which brought the house down to end the show on a real high.  The jazz singer Claire Teal did a lovely job of Doris Day’s love song from Calamity Jane, Secret Love, she sounded rather like k d lang .  Lyric tenor Charles Castronovo charmed the whole house with Serenade from The Student Prince (1954).  The lighter songs were mostly sung by Matthew Ford, (new to me, but has sung with the Syd Lawrence orchestra for some time).  He had a lovely softer voice with a lot of humour, and dared to take on Dick van Dyke’s mockney accent in the one Disney song in the mix – Funny Holiday from Mary Poppins. Then there were the two sopranos, Sara Fox trilled the high notes in a Deanna Durbin number, and Annalene Beechey sang the lighter fare. Some of the men from the chorus also got little cameos and they ably stepped up to the mark too.

All in all it was a magical evening. John Wilson is a both a genial conductor, and a musical genius for recreating all the lost scores, and I cannot overstress how brilliant this orchestra is – if only my shaky flashless photo taken on my phone was so good! Our seats were great – in a box on the Grand Tier halfway down the side – we had a wonderful view.

The good news is that the concert will be broadcast on the BBC on Saturday 3rd of September.  I am so looking forward to seeing it all again from a different angle.

The other good news is that the CD+DVD of the first MGM musicals concert is now out too – click for a link to Amazon UK: That’s Entertainment: A Celebration of the MGM Film Musical.  The orchestra is also on tour in major UK cities at the end of November (click here for dates and more info).

… and finally, reading the programme, I saw that Wilson and his orchestra recorded the soundtrack for Kevin Spacey’s biopic of Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea [DVD]. I thought this was a brilliant film, and Spacey sang all Darin’s songs with aplomb too!

I do hope he’ll do another show next year!

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