Overture - Hippodrome Casino
I wasn’t originally going to say anything about this event, just go along and enjoy it for what it is. But then I wasn’t expecting this particular experience to be so good, and it was an opportunity, too, to sample the theatre in the Hippodrome Casino, which I had never been in before: I love the Heliot Steak House in the casino (and don’t go often enough, mostly because my schedule doesn’t allow for it). I don’t care much for the floor upon floor of wheel-spinning in the main house, and if I had known steak and chips were on the cards even in the theatre (the table next to me plumped for burgers and fries) I might have chomped down on some sirloin where I was, right in front of the stage.
The many songs performed in this concert, under the banner of ‘Overture’, also included some other compositions from Daniel and Laura Curtis, musical theatre composers who, judging from this selection of their material, veer, as so much of contemporary British musical theatre tends to do, towards the reflective and even melancholy rather than the upbeat and exuberant. It was, to be fair, later explained to me that there were some last-minute changes due to cast illness and absences due to work commitments elsewhere. Still, an afternoon of mostly power ballads left me rather emotionally wrecked, and had there been more context to the songs, the afternoon may have been even more poignant than it was.
To be blunt, I simply couldn’t keep up with who was in love with whom and why, or who had let whom down, or if they really had let someone down or if their heightened emotions led them to believe they had but actually their actions were relatively trivial and they are in no danger of being dumped after all. Only one musical number was properly explained (if my memory serves me correctly), about Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), who lost his wife and unborn child in labour in October 1800. His response was to work even harder at being a performer and bringing joy to theatre audiences.
It’s an intriguing choice for a musical, if fully developed, especially as his life does not end well, and any sort of positive musical ending can only therefore be reached by a narrative not in chronological order, or otherwise finding some way of convincingly reprising an earlier section of a Grimaldi performance in his heyday to end the show with. Or else dispensing with the final years of his life altogether. Or making it a deliberately sombre show, looking at the personal sacrifices involved, such as the physical toll Grimaldi’s energetic performances eventually took on him.
Al Steele, at the conductor’s podium, was never let down by the live musicians, and valiantly grappled with some piece of technology or other that, when it worked as it should, provided additional recorded orchestrations. I’d have given up and just gone with the small band alone – less sometimes really is more – but Steele kept smiling, kept on enjoying himself, kept on keeping on – and in the end, in the heat of the moment, in the glory of live theatre, triumph over adversity is always uplifting to see.
There wasn’t, honestly, anything in the proceedings that I didn’t like. The best was kept for last, though, in a borderline tubthumping number from Emmanuel Kojo, followed by a majestically rousing closer, sung with passion by Tyrone Huntley. It was just the one performer, whose name I don’t recall (I wasn’t taking notes, and there was no list of musical numbers available), who kindly said ‘Hello’, pointing out that everybody else had simply launched into their song(s) without so much as an acknowledgement than an audience was even present.
But these are, at the end of the day, good tunes, and a fully fledged production of at least one of these musical ideas would, at some point, be greatly appreciated.