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Joe Stilgoe & The BBC Concert Orchestra at The Barbican

Joe Stilgoe is not a man to do things by halves, putting to rights the notion that it is no longer economically viable to have a large choir and orchestra to put on a show. A good mix of showtunes from a previous generation were interspersed with newer ones as well as Stilgoe’s own compositions, and there was a pleasant balance between upbeat and mellower songs. ‘Take Me Back (To The Theatre)’ will, in time, serve as a reminder of the feelings felt by many regular theatregoers when the theatres were closed due to public health restrictions.

Joe Stilgoe & The BBC Concert OrchestraThe show begins with Stilgoe sitting at a replica of a dressing room, on stage. He reads out cards from well-wishing friends who dole out the kind of personal banter that must be understood to be personal banter in order to be amusing. There were, very intermittently, ‘phone calls’ (inverted commas mine) from Stilgoe’s father Sir Richard, the lyricist and broadcaster, which were, truth be told, the dullest part of the evening, with the audience only able to hear one side of the ‘conversations’.

Everything else, mind you, was nothing short of sublime. The choir was composed of students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, who were rightly given chances to shine, and the BBC Concert Orchestra and Big Band were conducted by Tom Richards, who had also arranged most of the orchestrations. Some orchestrations were arranged by Callum Au, best known for his jazz and big band work.

Musical tributes to Leslie Bricusse (1931-2021) and Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) were lapped up by the audience. Numbers from younger composers included a jaunty reworking of ‘Does Anybody Have A Map?’ from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen, and – right at the very end of the evening – ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. A salutary nod to Stilgoe’s father came in the form of ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, the lyrics being the result of a collaboration between Sir Richard Stilgoe and Sir Trevor Nunn.

There were concert exclusives, by which I mean tunes not included in the album – including a medley in which the double bass took centre stage, with excerpts from songs such as ‘All About That Bass’, made famous by singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor, the Gershwin Brothers’ ‘Slap That Bass’ and – wait for it – Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’. The other non-album highlight was a piano solo from Stilgoe, the result of audience suggestions to put into a medley. Shout-outs included ‘Maria’ from West Side Story, ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie and ‘Bat Out of Hell’, which demonstrated the sheer breadth of the musical theatre canon.

There was a palpable feeling of nostalgia with a tribute to Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who had designed over ninety theatres across Britain in his lifetime, including the Hackney Empire, London Coliseum and Victoria Palace Theatre. Whether through his own songs, or through reworkings of established showtunes, Stilgoe stamps his sparkling authority through an album that shines whilst retaining sincerity and modesty throughout. Let’s just say I didn’t leave the Barbican without having bought a copy of the album for myself.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Singer, pianist and songwriter Joe Stilgoe presents his latest project, Theatre with the BBC Concert Orchestra, celebrating the greatest music of theatre in a thrillingly new and dynamic way.

The Hall is transformed into a carnival of theatrical experiences, where the stage and the orchestra meet without boundaries. The show is the thing, and with this show Joe celebrates theatre – the building, the experience, the drama, the laughs, the tears. With incredible new arrangements by a celebrated quartet of arrangers – Tom Richards, Callum Au, Evan Jolly and Andrew Cottee – the orchestra is joined by players from the British jazz scene and guest singers from the world of theatre.

Brought up in a theatrical family, Joe chose to go his own way, becoming a fixture on the UK jazz scene, until he discovered his true passion for the stage at The Old Vic in 2015. Since then he has written hugely successful musicals, toured theatres with his own shows and worked with many of the greats of the theatre world.

Joe Stilgoe & The BBC Concert Orchestra
Mon 2 May 2022

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