Arts Review

Musical Theatre Gala

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra Presents Musical Theatre Gala

22nd July, 2023

Concert Hall, QPAC


Conductor & Host Guy Noble
Vocal Soloists Martha Berhane, Daniel Belle, Ashleigh Denning, Jonathan Hickey


Dr Gemma Regan


Where was Hamilton and the Phantom?


It’s the time of the year when the irrepressible Guy Noble not only hosts but conducts the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, in a gala celebration of musical theatre. It was a familiar line-up with excerpts from Guys and Dolls, Les Miserables and West Side Story but a few curve balls were thrown in such as This Is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde, Corner of the Sky from Pippin and Vanilla Ice Cream from She Loves Me


Cellist Craig Allister Young seemed to do the impossible whilst introducing the concert, by outperforming Noble with his convoluted amusing story combining each of the songs in a narrative starting with a Guy who had a doll called Pocahontas and ending with sending in the clowns to stop the people being miserable! It had everyone laughing whilst scanning the program to see if he had missed any of the 22 songs, which of course he didn’t. He also warned the audience that if you were feeling inclined to join in and sing along, “Don’t!” As the four soloists were much better singers, as all four proved to be! 


The concert was more light entertainment than the usual high-brow symphonies. Alan Smith, as Concertmaster, had the QSO in tune as they launched into Frank Loesser’s 73-year-old Overture from Guys and Dolls with a sumptuous rich big-band sound followed by Luck be a Lady and If I Were a Bell with soloists Damien Belle and Ashleigh Denning. Both Belle and Denning are renowned Australian performers, having sung with the Ten Tenors and the Seven Sopranos, respectively. Nobel pointed out that the violas seemed lazy, as they had no notes to play during the medley and therefore had an easy start sitting chilling in their section!


The beautiful Colours of the Wind from Pocahontas introduced the powerful soloist Martha Berhane who recently performed as Eliza Hamilton (Hamilton’s wife) in the Brisbane and New Zealand seasons of the ground-breaking sensation Hamilton. To have a performer from the most popular smash-hit musical in history and not have them perform a song from Hamilton was disappointing and ridiculous! Whoever compiled the concert was not thinking of their audience or performers and instead chose some of the more quirky songs from many lesser-known and less popular musicals.


The songs came thick and fast with a funny duet between Ashleigh and Queensland Conservatorium graduate Jonathan Hickey in Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin. Fortunately, Ashleigh got the better of Hickey in an amusing duel as she shot him down with the highest, loudest, longest, sweetest and fastest singing in the West!


Belle came to the fore with his round fruity voice crooning Maria from Bernstein’s momentous West Side Story with David Montgomery on the drum kit swinging a smooth jazz during the Cool Fugue and with Noble bouncing to the beat.


Come What May from Moulin Rouge by David Baerwald was a big finish before the interval with the QSO a powerful accompaniment to Belle and Berhane’s duet.


Menken’s magical Overture and Tale as Old Time from Beauty and the Beast was lovely, leading into What is this Feeling? from Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked as a parody of Harry Potter where soloists Berhane and Denning argue in a ‘Loath song’ at Shiz University. 


Denning excelled during Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music, with her rich, powerful voice complementing the reedy clarinet solo from Irit Silver. The spooky Night Waltz was the perfect introduction to the sad lament.


There was a predictable standing ovation after the Les Misérables medley which featured all four soloists in their element. The effusiveness of the audience was rewarded with an encore. Most expected it to be from one of the top musicals, and even I had hoped they had the Phantom or Hamilton tucked up their sleeve. Instead, they did a little-known trite quartet, You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow from the antiquated 1971 Follies which was performed well, but was a disappointing flat finale.


Both the QSO musicians and the four soloists gave fabulous performances. However, the choice of songs seemed predictable and lacking the wow factor and Noble seemed a little off his game as the host, whilst also conducting. Perhaps he should stick with the MC role and leave the conducting to those who do it full-time, allowing him to bring in the clown!


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