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City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Queen: A Rock and Symphonic Spectacular

After 12 years in the West End We Will Rock You closed in May 2014. Adam Lambert has just ended the UK tour with the remaining members of Queen. The group’s records are still played and loved all over the world, but on Friday there was a chance to hear the music of Queen live again from the City of Birmingham Symphonic Orchestra (CBSO). I was looking forward to hearing the music of Queen in a new light, with new arrangements.

City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraRichard Sidwell put together arrangements for the rock and symphonic spectacular. Friday night classics concert held at the symphony hall Birmingham. Sidwell was also conducting CBSO along with four singers who have all had their time starring in WWRY musical, and a 5-piece rock band.

Jenna Lee-James, who has worked extensively as a leading lady in the West End and on tour. Playing Mary in Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s The Night. Jenna is currently the only person in the world to have played all three lead roles in WWRY.

Julie Stark who spent 2 year in WWRY in the West End playing roles including, Meatloaf Killer Queen. Also played Marion in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Ricardo Afonso currently playing the role of Taxi Driver in Women on Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, has been lead vocalist in Thriller Live, Alberto Beddini in Top Hat, and Galileo in We Will Rock You in the West End.

Oliver Tompsett with stage credits including original London cast of Drew in Rock of Ages, Galileo in West End WWRY, and Fiyero in Wicked, and most recently as Phil Davis in White Christmas at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

As the 50 piece strong orchestra walk on we could see we are in for an extraordinary fun night. All the members are dressed up in tributes to Freddie and Queen. The front row brass section catching our eye first making us chuckle, a man with facemask of Freddie (who kept it on all way through the concert), a man in Flash Gordon attire, and a man in drag in full costume from the ‘I Want To Break Free’ video. What an effort! As Jenna mentioned later on in the concert, just going to show CBSO are “one of the most Eccentric Orchestras there is”. It was hard to spot the females of the band too as most were wearing ‘tashes and kudos to them for keeping them stuck on while blowing and playing away.

For me the songs most suited to the balance of the Rock Band, Orchestra and vocalist were Innuendo – with an amazing musical bridge; Killer Queen, which sounded fantastic with the strings and guitars complimenting each, creating more of a big band feel to the song; Radio Ga ga – which the crowd all clapped along to Queen style; One Vison with Oliver Tompsett and Ricardo on vocals; The Show must go on – which may have brought a tear to my eye as it was so full of passion; Hammer To Fall was the most fun to watch with the most resemblance to the way it was performed in WWRY with Jenna and Oliver perfectly mimicking each other on stage.

Oliver Tompsett borrowed the hoover for a prance around the stage while he sang “I Want to Break Free”, which was very funny. But maybe they should have got the vocalists to dress up too. I’m sure Oliver Tompsett’s long legs would look fantastic in a short leather skirt. – sorry Oliver. The Girls brought back girl power as they belted out “I want it all”. We also had big ballads – there sure was something for everyone.
The 5 piece rock band, dominated the sound at some points – but the music of Queen would not be right without strong guitar solos.

The arrangements that excelled for me were Fat bottomed girls, with Brass sections shining in their dominance and Crazy Little Thing Called Love – which appeared to include all musicians onstage and all four vocalists which had the audience enjoying every second.

Sometimes the backing vocals got a little lost in the venue with so much going on, but luckily not all of the time. I was really impressed with the creative arrangements by the conductor Richard Sidwell.

Having been in WWRY, I would have thought going back to original Queen lyrics after the WWRY arrangements could have been a bit tough but the vocalists performed the songs like they had never performed them any other way. As a fan of the stage show I still sometimes sing along with the radio the show versions without realising.

This night had a fantastic set list. Not just songs we have heard in WWRY but included other songs from Queen’s back catalogue. Ending with the obligatory encore of We Are The Champions sway/singalong.

The night really was full of fun, fabulous music and a must for any fan of Queen or symphonic rock. The show was sold out well in advance and full of all ages. So if you see a night from CBSO advertised then get your tickets fast as this night proved to be very popular.

The audience were encouraged to join in the clapping and swaying and that made for a fabulous atmosphere. One little girl in front of me was such a joy to watch as she rocked out loving every moment. With her parents – proving that this music is timeless.
5 Star Rating


Review by Bonnie Britain

Friday 27 March 2015 at 7.30pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham


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