Review by Daz Gale
How do you fittingly pay tribute to two of the greatest composers and lyricists in the history of musical theatre, whose influence changed the landscape of the art and is still felt today? That is the unenviable task faced by the producers of 'My Favorite Things' who decided to mark the 80th anniversary of Rodgers & Hammerstein's partnership with a spectacular gala concert featuring some of the biggest names in not just the West End and Broadway but TV and film. With the phenomenal success of last year's Stephen Sondheim tribute concert Old Friends still fresh in people's memories, the necessary quality expected of a show like this felt impossible to meet. Let me tell you straight away... it's possible.
It was 80 years ago in 1943 when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein joined forces to create what would become the most successful partnership in American Musical Theatre. It is fitting that the celebration concerts took place at the beautiful Theatre Royal Drury Lane as this was the very same stage that played host to the original West End productions of Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I – all of which had numbers gloriously performed in this jam packed setlist.
Narrowing down what songs to perform on the night is a challenge in itself given that the pair have no shortage of timeless songs to choose from. With a setlist comprised of nearly 40 songs, the concert was a fitting tribute to the brilliance of their creations, and even then there were some notable omissions. Carefully put together so shows were displayed in suites rather than a haphazard back and forth, we were treated to suites of Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific , The King and I, Cinderella and The Sound Of Music as well as a smattering of standalone numbers from some of their lesser known musicals. All beautifully realised by a 40 piece orchestra, conducted by Simon Lee, the songs still sounded as beautiful now as I’m sure they would have all those years ago. Refreshingly, the orchestra themselves also got their own moments to shine with an overture, ent’racte and a stunning ‘Carousel Waltz’ to close the show.
As special as the songs are, it was the star cast that had been assembled by this gala concert that really made it an unmissable event. With award-winners, A listers, theatre legends and household names all appearing in quick succession, it was a relentless ride who set the tone early on with the first two performances coming from Patrick Wilson and Audra McDonald – both worthy of being show closers in their own right, though in Audra’s case, she did (more on that shortly). Patrick Wilson was one of the stars on hand to talk about his own history with Rodgers & Hammerstein productions, conjuring up two numbers from Oklahoma as well as one of the musical highlights of the evening in the beautiful classic ‘If I Loved You’ from Carousel with Lily Kerhoas.
Marisha Wallace reprised her Olivier award nominated turn as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! With a rousing rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No’ further displaying her immeasurable talents with ‘the Gentleman is A Dope’ from Allegro and a fabulous duet of ‘Impossible; It’s Possible’ from Cinderella, all the while revealing a series of fabulous dresses which really added to the grandeur (and, let’s be honest, campness) of the concert. Joanna Ampil treated us to stunning performances of ‘Something Wonderful’ from The King and I and ‘In My own Little Corner’ from Cinderella (the good one) proving what a powerhouse vocalist she is, and Lucy St Louis blew the roof of the building with standout performances of ‘The Sound Of Music’ and ‘I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy’.
Maria Friedman and Daniel Dae Kim reunited after appearing together in The King and I for a glorious selection of songs from that musical. While their solos delighted, it was their beautiful performance of ‘Shall We Dance’ which truly embodies the magic of theatre. As they recounted their tales of working together, their chemistry and love for each other was plain to see and left me thankful I got a chance to experience a brief moment of this, having missed them starring in the full show together.
The legendary Michael Ball revealed he had always been terrified to attempt ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific before delivering a brilliant version in his first public performance of it (the shower doesn’t count) though it was his rendition of the anthemic ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ that closed act one which really provided one of the many standouts of the evening. Another highlight came from Julian Ovenden with a powerful performance of ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ which really was a vocal masterclass. Broadway superstar Aaron Tveit gave West End audiences a rare opportunity to experience his inimitable vocals live. While there was no opportunity for a ‘Roxanne’ opt-up, he proved why he is one of the best in the business with stunning performances of ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’, ‘Younger Than Springtime’, a beautiful ‘Ten Minutes Ago’ and an incredible albeit far too short ‘Soliloquy’.
He wasn’t the only Broadway legend on offer as the six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald once again blessed us with her talents. An early rendition of the song which gave the concert it’s title, ‘My Favorite Things’ set the bar ridiculously high. She returned to talk about her experiences in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s shows including an unexpected story about her audition. The closing number was reserved to her to end the concert with a rousing rendition of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ in a way only she can. Rumours were going around of an unannounced special guest and when the announcement of a rare EGOT winner was made, you could hear the gasps as the legendary Rita Moreno walked on to the stage. Though she didn’t sing, she did entertain with stories of her own, hilariously referring to herself as a “dirty girl”. It was the opportunities to see such legends of stage and screen in one place that made the show so special and feel like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If the vocals from this group of icons was something to behold in itself, it was only amplified by the 40-piece Rodgers & Hammerstein concert orchestra who filled the stage with a sound more heavenly than I suspect I have ever heard. They were also joined by a fabulously talented ensemble who themselves provided a highlight with an excellent tap routine to ‘Kansas City’, led by Jonny Labey. The whole planning of the show was pretty perfect. Precise direction and clever choreography from Christopher Gattelli gave the show a grand affair, far greater than your average concert.
The best word to describe My Favorite Things is legendary. A legendary partnership who are responsible for no shortage of legendary songs, fittingly performed by a line-up of, you guessed it, legends. The kind of performers you would usually only see together in someone’s dream list of a gala concert, but miraculously made a reality. These performers proved why they are some of the best in the business in a concert that never faltered, maintaining the excellence from start to finish. The storytelling aspect added a beautifully personal touch and was every bit as riveting as the musical performances. If ‘Old Friends’ was the concert event of 2022, ‘My Favorite Things’ is the concert event of 2023. Truly stunning and a perfect reminder of everything I love about musical theatre. Oh what a wonderful concert – it really was an enchanted evening.
Orchestra - Oklahoma Overture
Patrick Wilson - Oh What A Beautiful Morning (from Oklahoma)
Audra McDonald - My Favorite Things (from The Sound Of Music)
Patrick Wilson - The Surrey With The Fringe On Top (from Oklahoma)
Marisha Wallace - I Cain't Say No (from Oklahoma)
Lily Kerhoas - Out Of My Dreams (from Oklahoma)
Audra McDonald - Mister Snow (from Carousel)
Anna-Jane Casey - June Is Bustin' Out All Over (from Carousel)
Lily Kerhoas - What's The Use Of Wonrin'? (from Carousel)
Aaron Tveit - Soliloquy (from Carousel)
Lucy St. Louis - It Might As Well Be Spring (from State Fair)
Joanna Ampil - Love, Look Away (from Flower Drum Song)
Marisha Wallace - The Gentleman Is A Dope (from Allegro)
Jordan Shaw - No Other Love (from Me and Juliet)
Joanna Ampil - Something Wonderful (from The King and I)
Aaron Tveit - You've Got To Be Carefully Taught (from South Pacific)
Aaron Tveit - Younger Than Springtime (from South Pacific)
Marisha Wallace - I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair (from South Pacific)
Lucy St. Louis - I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy (from South Pacific)
Julian Ovenden - This Nearly Was Mine (from South Pacific)
Michael Ball - You'll Never Walk Alone (from Carousel)
Orchestra - South Pacific Ent'racte
Jordan Shaw and ensemble - There Is Nothing Like A Dame (from South Pacific)
Joanna Ampil - I Have Dreamed/We Kiss In A Shadow (from The King and I)
Daniel Dae Kim - A Puzzlement (from The King and I)
Maria Friedman - Hello Young Lovers (from The King and I)
Maria Friedman and Daniel Dae Kim - Shall We Dance (from The King and I)
Lily Kerhoas and Patrick Wilson - If I Loved You (from Carousel)
Joanna Ampil - In My Own Little Corner (from Cinderella)
Aaron Tveit - Ten Minutes Ago (from Cinderella)
Marisha Wallace and Anna-Jane Casey - Impossible; It's Possible (from Cinderella)
Julian Ovenden - All At Once You Love Her (from Pipe Dream)
Jonny Labey and ensemble - Kansas City (from Oklahoma)
Michael Ball - Some Enchanted Evening (from South Pacific)
Lucy St. Louis - The Sound Of Music (from The Sound Of Music)
Group performance - Do-Re-Mi (from The Sound Of Music)
Anna-Jane Casey - The Lonely Goatherd (from The Sound Of Music)
Maria Friedman - Something Good (from The Sound Of Music)
Group performance - Edelweiss (from The Sound Of Music)
Audra McDonald - Climb Ev'ry Mountain (from The Sound Of Music)
Orchestra - Carousel Waltz
My Favorite Things was filmed for broadcast in cinemas around the UK and Ireland on 14th and 18th February 2024 with international dates to be announced. Tickets from https://concert.rodgersandhammerstein.com