An evening of Bernstein’s theatrical and movie music played by the John Wilson Orchestra is always going to be a winner. The Royal Albert Hall was sold out within minutes of this concert going on general sale. And it didn’t disappoint. This is a group of musicians who really connect with this repertoire as do the vocalists – Louise Dearman, Julian Ovenden, Lucy Schaufer, Scarlett Strallen – and the Maida Vale Singers. And John Wilson is a highly accomplished conductor and arranger.
Bernstein’s talent was scandalously wasted in the fifties. Pennsylvania Avenue and Candide were scuppered by terrible books, Trouble in Tahiti sunk without trace and, most scandalous of all, Bernstein’s songs for Peter Pan were re-written by his deputy, the aptly named Marc Blitzstein who cut the best song: Dream with Me. We must be grateful for Wilson’s ability to nose out and rescue gems like this. It is a beautiful song and Scarlett Strallen’s performance raised the hairs on the back of the neck.
To my mind, the score for Candide is the apotheosis of Bernstein’s musical theatre work, and fortunately Wilson seems to be of the same opinion. As well as the bustling overture, we were treated to three numbers and, to round off the evening, the final chorus. I was a little bit disappointed that Wonderful Town did not feature more prominently. We were allowed only two numbers from this fabulous score – A Little Bit in Love and A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man. The addition of What a Waste or The Wrong Note Rag would have made me happier.
Even West Side Story was coolly received when it opened on Broadway. The Music Man swept the board at that year’s Tonys. The 1961 movie revealed the sheer genius of this golden collaboration between Bernstein, Sondheim, Laurents and Robbins and picked up ten Oscars. The Dance at the Gym allowed the brass and percussion sections to strut their stuff and contrasted well with the vaudevillian Gee Officer Krupke with its earthy last line.