Saturday, October 27, 2018

CAROLINE O'CONNOR - From Broadway with Love

Directed by Tyran Parke.

Conducted by George Ellis

Presented by City Recital Hall – Sydney October 26th 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

If any proof were needed as to why Caroline O’Connor is regarded as one of the most accomplished and sought-after music theatre performers in the world, then this sensational concert has certainly provided it in spades.

Best known in Australia for her starring roles in a string of Broadway musicals, among them “West Side Story”, “Chicago”, “Anything Goes”, “Gypsy” and “Funny Girl”, O’Connor has starred in even more shows overseas, and for this concert she took the opportunity to include songs from many of the musicals in which she has starred in England, America and France, including “Follies”, “The Rink”, “Sweeney Todd”, and “On the Town”.

Accompanied by a brilliant 19 piece orchestra, conducted by George Ellis, which captured the genuine Broadway sound with superb musical arrangements, and which included O’Connor’s regular accompanist, Daniel Edmonds on piano, and her husband, Barrie Shaw on saxophone, flute and clarinet,  with, Special Guests, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir  providing a couple of show-stopping moments and some lush choral backings, O’Connor dazzled her audience with no fewer than 24 showstoppers. Each a mini masterclass in interpretation, impeccable diction and masterful phrasing, as O’Connor created a roomful of memorable characterizations moving seamlessly from song to song.

Directed by Tyran Parke, who was also a feature artist, stage manager, and even a human prop for one of the songs, the performance commenced with a dramatic orchestral medley of songs associated with O’Connor. Parke and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir then took the stage to perform Sondheim’s “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience”, during which O’Connor surprised the audience by emerging from among the choir to join Parke for  some wicked contemporary updates of the original lyrics.

The familiar vamp for Kander and Ebb’s “All That Jazz” was all that was needed to encourage the seemingly indefatigable O’Connor to beguile her adoring audience with song after song from shows in which she has appeared during her career.  The quirky “Wrong Note Rag”,  the  tongue-twisting “I Can Cook Too”, both  from Bernstein’s “On the Town” and the lovely “Journey to the Past” from Ahrens and Flaherty’s “Anastasia” for which she recently won plaudits originating the role of the Countess Lily Malesvesky-Malevitch on Broadway, demonstrated her versatility.   

Her brilliant rendition of “The Worst Pies in London” from Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” gave a glimpse of the performance that prompted Sondheim to declare her, “the best Mrs. Lovett he had ever heard”.  A heartfelt version of “Time Heals Everything” from Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mabel”, introduced with a captivating saxophone solo by Barrie Shaw, provided a glimpse of the performance that earned her an Olivier Award nomination. Throughout, treating every member of the audience as if each was her bestie, she punctuated the songs with personal stories about the songs, and her experiences in the shows from which they came.

A sassy “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” from Kander and Ebb’s, “The Rink”, in which O’Connor starred earlier this year in England , and a savage “Could I Leave You” from Sondheim’s “Follies”, were particular highlights.  She paid tribute to Peter Allen and Judy Garland with “All I Wanted was the Dream” from “The Boy From Oz”, and to Leonard Bernstein by including a pretty song, “The Story of My Life”, cut from “On the Town”.

There were many more memorable moments including two from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir with its memorable version of “Our Time” from Sondheim’s  “Merrily We Roll Along”, and a goose-bump-inducing version of “Sunday” from his “Sunday in the Park with George” sung with members of the choir scattered through-out the auditorium.

Finally, O’Connor joined the choir for a stunning arrangement of “What I Did for Love” from the Marvin Hamlisch musical, “A Chorus Line”, earning her a sustained standing ovation from the entire audience, which O’Connor, her voice miraculously sounding as fresh as it did with her very first song, rewarded with a blistering version of the ultimate Sondheim song, “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy”.

This was one of those one-off, “You should’ve been there” events, destined to be forever locked in the memory-banks of those in the capacity audience lucky enough to have shared it. You should have been there!

 This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS