I’m a relative newcomer to the idea of musicals in concert form, but I think they’re a fabulous idea to allow audiences to be introduced to shows and scores that are perhaps less widely known. This was the case for my second ‘musical in concert’ outing (the first being Sondheim’s A Little Night Music back in 2013, and I’m soon to be attending Sweet Charity at Cadogan Hall) and for this outing, I made my inaugural visit to London’s Royal Festival Hall for Of Thee I Sing! Back in 1934, the Gershwin’s ‘tuneful satire’ was the first ever musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It follows Presidential Candidate John P. Wintergreen, whose political party are on a mission to find out what the American people want, and they decide to let John run with Love. They organise a beauty pageant to help find the next First Lady, and they settle on beautiful, sassy Southern Belle Diana Devereaux. However, for John, love equates to sweetness, sensitivity and the humble corn muffin and after falling for Mary Turner, Wintergreen finds himself in hot political waters.
The musical satirises Congress, the Supreme Court, the Presidency and the democratic process as a whole, and admittedly I was watching and perhaps didn’t pick up on all the references and jokes I could have, not being well versed or massively interested in American politics, and the whole idea that a man falls in love with a woman because of how she cooks is so dated the humour was lost on me, but after a time I stopped trying to analyse everything and just enjoy the piece for what I took from it; it’s warm hearted and funny, with a charming ‘old school’ score, all brought to life by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, some incredibly talented upcoming theatrical stars of the future from The Musical Theatre Academy and a wonderful cast that featured a couple of old firm favourites of mine, along with some new ones.
Hadley Fraser lead the cast as John P Wintergreen, bringing with him effortless charm and charisma by the spade, once again lending his amazing voice to a style of score I feel suits him like a glove: Here’s a Kiss for Cinderella and Some Girls Can Bake A Pie were favourites of the entire evening! It was a joy watching him play such an adorable, lovestruck character and his cheeky banter made me grin from ear to ear.
His Mary came in the form of Louise Dearman, in the first opportunity I’ve had to see her live. Her voice is beautiful and her take on Mary had great warmth and grace. She and Hadley played off well against each other both vocally and acting wise, I loved how they were both able to make me emotionally invest in characters I would otherwise have found quite difficult to connect with.
Hannah Waddingham was a revelation to me as Diana, and I hope this won’t be the last time I’m able to see her. Catty and incredibly fierce, Diana is scorned by Wintergreen and thus sets out to take revenge, and Hannah played the perfect diva; walking a very fine line between me being sympathetic to and annoyed by her character, but never once falling into the latter. Her comic timing is marvellous and her voice a pleasure. Talking of comic timing, special mentions must go Tom Edden, who had my sides splitting with laughter as the unfortunately named Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom, and the magnificent Peter Polycarpou, who made the most of his sparce appearances as the French Ambassador by once again proving he is a master at acting through song! (Myself and my pal Olivia were humming The Illegitimate Daughter for ages, and it’s still going round in my head as I write this, damn you Peter ;P) Nicholas Colicos, Gareth Snook and James Barron were among the rest of this awesome cast whose performances bought a massive smile to my face, I salute and say thankyou to every single one of them for a brilliant evening!