A slightly reduced-sized Halle Orchestra, all dressed in costumes reminiscent of Queen's heydays of the 1980s, or even dressed as the great man Freddie Mercury himself, took to the stage this evening to become the backing for a five-piece band and 4 singers who regularly work together on this show as it tours the world over, inviting local orchestras to play with them along the way. Tonight it was the turn of The Halle Orchestra, who, of course rose to this challenge superbly without even so much as a ruffled feather; and one plucky string player found his five seconds of fame as he walked onto the stage in Freddie Mercury drag and a hoover! It's the Festive Season, and it's the kind of concert which lends itself towards fancy costumes, and since the entire orchestra entered so wholeheartedly in to that spirit, it worked very well indeed.
The Halle Orchestra though, as I intimated, took very much a back seat in tonight's concert. Of course it would not have sounded the way it did without them, and the fullness and richness of the scoring, bringing out the dramatic, almost operatic nature of the writing superbly, would not have been evidenced without them; but they were most definitely not out point of focus.
Neither were the five musicians that belong to the tour, which made up tonight's rhythm section. Despite segregating themselves from the orchestra slightly and standing towards the front of the stage, they still were not the focal point this evening.
No, the moment we heard the very first chord being struck, and the beat start, we knew we were in for something a little bit different and special. And as conductor and orchestral arranger Richard Sidwell entered to conduct the Overture to tonight's concert we knew this was going to be an evening to remember for a long time to come.
Let me make it clear though. This was not a Queen tribute act. Far from it. Whether or not it was a Rock Concert I am still uncertain, but it was most definitely a theatrical performance, highly emotionally charged and powerful. This was a concert celebrating the music of possibly the UK's greatest ever Rock group, Queen. It was a joyous and fitting celebration. The music was undeniably Queen's, but it was fuller, grander, and perhaps more like Queen themselves envisaged it to be in their own minds when trying to make four people and three instruments sound like a opera orchestra!
To sing the songs this evening, then Andrew Wyke, the producer and promoter of this Queen Touring Show, has chosen well. Four performers from the world of Musical Theatre and pop music, all four of whom having previously taken starring roles in the West End tribute Musical, We Will Rock You, as well as countless other credits to their names. They were Alex Gaumond, Rachael Wooding, Jenna-Lee James, and Peter Eldridge. Between them they sung 24 of Queen's greatest hits, and proved to be highly enigmatic and superb performers. Gaumond having that wonderful high resonance and sonorous quality that Mercury himself had when singing the highest notes; Eldridge having the hard rock singing and head-banging down to a Tee, [ his version of Tie Your Mother Down would be very difficult for anyone to beat! ], and the two females providing a new, interesting and effective dynamic to lyrics I had previously heard sung only by men. With Jenna-Lee Jones' 'Somebody To Love' being so highly emotionally charged one would have thought it had been written especially for her, and what a powerhouse of a voice too! Wow!
It was sadly things technical which spoiled this otherwise excellent and rather special concert. In the interval I made comment that the mic levels were not right. The balance of sound had not been properly adjusted meaning the three singers when singing backing vocals to the lead singer could not be heard, and the music in general, especially the lead guitar, was too loud in comparison. I think I must have been overheard, since during the first song of the second act, much microphone swapping and adjusting took place and the singers were much clearer; however, rather than reducing the volume on the orchestra mics, they just turned the volume up on the singers and so when it came to loud songs with screeching vocals, it assaulted the ear drums worse than any nightclub boom. This was all such a shame and so easily avoidable too. It always makes me laugh when I go to a concert at The Bridgewater Hall which is mic'd. I am entering a hall that is as near acoustically perfect as it is possible to get, and yet the stage is filled with more microphones and sound boxes than you'd find at a genuine Rock gig. I do understand that for certain concerts, this included, microphones and amplification are necessary in order to create the general mood and correct timbre of the music being played, but I do feel that too much emphasis is placed on these devices. I wonder if the four soloists tonight would have been able to perform with such gusto and fervour, had they been asked to sing acoustically.
The other thing which irritated this evening was the lighting. Above the stage was a row of coloured lights which seemed to be played onto the orchestra completely randomly bathing them in strange colours for no apparent reason. It was odd and distracting. Further; spots were used for the soloists, but they were not follow spots and so one found the soloists traversing the stage from light, through darkness, back into light again; and if the soloists stayed in the unlit patch for a while then no attempt was made to find a light for them! Again, this seemed rather amateurish and so easily avoided.
It was a fantastic concert nevertheless, and as we clapped and sang along to favourites such as Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are The Champions, Radio GaGa, and more, the atmosphere was alive and responsive. All four singers this evening were undeniably superb, although for me for the type of music and production we had come to watch, Eldridge most certainly had the edge.
As an interesting aside, I would be very curious to have seen this concert conducted by Stephen Bell. No disrespect whatsoever to Richard Sidwell, but he did not bring out the best from this magnificent orchestra; simply I think, because he didn't know them or their capabilities or how quickly they can respond and adapt to any situation. His conducting was too staid, since he was simply repeating what he does with every orchestra, wherever the tour takes him.
I wanted it all, I got a kind of magic.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 29th December 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★