Rodgers and Hammerstein may generally be considered the original masters of musical theatre, but Cole Porter comes a very close second. Best known for the hit musicals Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate and High Society, he wrote over 800 songs during his lifetime. A staggering achievement.
This concert performance of his music may only have contained 25 of those songs, but it proved nonetheless to be a jubilant celebration of his music. And whilst the song list was heavy with numbers from the aforementioned musicals, it overall covered 14 of his 17 shows (and films). Every number in this performance was memorable, no matter what show it originated from - with such a vast output, it’s easy to forget just how many brilliant songs Porter wrote. Few people may remember his musical Born To Dance for instance, but fewer still would be unfamiliar with its hit song ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’.
He certainly had a distinctive style, whether in his up-tempo jazz dances, his patter duets, or his love songs. This collection of songs provided just enough variety to offer a suitable cross-section of his output, even if it was a little comedy and jazz-hands heavy. It’s for this reason that Jenna Russell’s performance of the sumptuous ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ from Hi Diddle Diddle was such a highlight in an otherwise jovial evening – subtle, emotive and captivating.
The show featured performances from four musical theatre heavyweights (and gushing friends), who between them have a string of Tony and Olivier nominations and awards: the fun and frivolous Maria Friedman; the dry and witty Jenna Russell; the crooning Graham Bickley; and cool cat Clive Rowe. Rowe, especially, was the standout performer with an effortless, rich vocal tone whether singing the Kiss Me Kate classic ‘Too Darn Hot’ or the silky ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. Aside from the odd tutti number, it was just a shame that the foursome never really branched out of solos and duets.
Concert performances can feel a little stilted with a lack of staging and movement, but Porter’s music is easy enough to revel in. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played brilliantly under the conducting of Richard Balcombe, though they sometimes overpowered the singers – especially the underused Royal Academy of Music Musical Theatre Company Chorus. Still, with a general lack of musical theatre at this year’s BBC Proms, this concert provided more than enough to satiate fans of the genre.