Since their first appearance back in 2009, The John Wilson Orchestra and their celebration of classic musicals has been the highlight of the BBC Proms season for me. Having watched the concerts countless times on TV/YouTube, this week I finally got the chance to see them live at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of their Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein celebration tour.
I always thought it was a little absurd the amount of times John Wilson's name is mentioned in Proms coverage: "And now John Wilson and his John Wilson Orchestra present a selection of songs chosen by John Wilson and arranged by John Wilson...", but to give the man his due, he knows how to put on a bloody good show. While most children were probably out playing, John sat in watching old Hollywood musicals, which may have done nothing for his street-cred at the time, but has now granted him enormous success. As the scores for classic films from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein were lost, and the theatre version just a shadow of the huge, orchestral soundtracks, John painstakingly recreated them by ear. The result is lavish, soaring scores which remind you that they don't make music like they used to.
John's little black book must be an incredible document too. He's the man responsible for proving to the world (beyond Family Guy viewers) that Seth MacFarlane can actually sing, and is adept at bringing together the finest talent, from musicians to singers, for his performances. Each member of his orchestra is hand-picked, and we were truly spoiled with Sir Thomas Allen, Kim Criswell, Julian Ovenden and Annalene Beechey as soloists. Kim has an incredible talent for acting every word she sings, bringing to life the characters behind the songs. While it was odd seeing Julian and Annalene as lovers, having always thought of them as brother and sister in Marguerite, they complimented each other beautifully. I particularly enjoyed a brief glimpse of Julian's jazzy side - revealed on the album If You Stay - during The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Sir Thomas proved why he is a star with a Some Enchanted Evening that brought the house down.
Thanks to being an eager beaver and booking back around April, I had a seat right in the middle of the front row, and because the Royal Festival Hall is lovely and generous, offering half-price tickets to students, that prime location didn't break the bank. All in all, a spectacular evening. My only complaint is that I couldn't dance along like an idiot as I would if watching at home!