Songs from the Library Shelf

Date 11th April 2013
Society Bath Light Operatic Group
Venue The Wroughton Theatre, Bath
Type of Production Revue/Compilation
Director Matthew Finch
Musical Director Matthew Finch
Choreographer Jill Kelly

Report

Author: Graeme Savage

A lot of work and thought had gone into raising this above the level of your standard ‘Songs from the Shows’-type event. As the house opened, the cast were already in places in a library, studiously poring over books from all genres, giving us an idea of what was to come. Reinforced by an original composition from musical director (and director and compiler, and our pianist for the evening) Matthew Finch, this came across as being very much a labour of love, and an opportunity to put in a few numbers which would otherwise seem incongruous in a more traditional concert-style setting. This was particularly so in the second half, but more of that later…

As the ‘library’ opened to the public, under the officious stewardship of Raymond Morrison and Alexandra Pugh, we were given a sense of what was to come. Each half divided into themed sections, opening with a short sketch in which Sam (the work experience boy?!) was sent on an errand to a different part of the library, enabling us to hear a few songs which were appropriate to that section. Some of these were more tenuous than others, but it was a nice touch, and gave the evening a sense of direction that concerts sometimes lack. It also, as stated before, gave the chance to introduce some more obscure songs without it feeling like the “here’s the songs you don’t know” section of SFTS concerts – particularly seeing a well-choreographed Don’t Be Anything Less Than Anything You Can Be from ‘Snoopy’ in the children’s section, alongside a more recognisable medley from Cats, taken from the poetry section.

As ever with BLOG, the choral singing was practically flawless, with some beautiful harmonies (many Mr Finch’s own arrangements) and well-supported by piano, and some light percussion adding a little colour and drive where required. If at times a couple of sound gremlins meant it was difficult to make out all of the words (most noticeable in the opening and closing number, where the lyrics weren’t well known), this was overcome by the constant enthusiasm and dedication shown by all the performers, who barely left the stage, but returned to their ‘reading tables’ when not involved. 

The costumes were minimal, but with good use of props (or lack of them where Richard Pugh’s performance in a scene-stealing The King’s New Clothes was concerned!!) to convey just enough extra character or context without interfering with the overall library setting. The projected backdrops throughout were very well put together, and subtle enough to root some of the numbers, without dominating in a ‘special effects’ kind of way. Other musical highlights for me were some of the less-familiar numbers – Richard Pugh once again, with a cracking version of Telly from ‘Matilda’, and Emma Boden’s beautiful solo … in a sequence from The Hired Man, given extra emotion buy being candle-lit in the eaves of the theatre roof.

The only downside, for me, was that the second half of the evening did tend to become more sombre, particularly with the last selection of songs from Evita, The Hired Man, Chess, etc. following on from a powerful selection from Bible-related musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph. While this is no criticism of the performances, which were very well sung and nicely staged (particularly re-creating the iconic balcony moment for Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), it did feel that the evening became a bit lop-sided, for want of a better word, and for me, could have done with a lighter moment just to break the mood. This was just a personal note for me, especially as my one over-riding feeling with any sort of SFTS concert is that it is very difficult to generate the same level of emotion that these songs are designed/written to generate within their ‘parent’ shows, when they are performed out of context in this way, even with great effort from the cast and crew with their performances – a song such as Gethsemane being a perfect case in point. Despite an excellent vocal performance from Mark Baker, it never quite had the spine-tingling factor that the same song should have when it appears in the middle of Jesus Christ Superstar, because of the story and character development which has preceded it.

Overall, though, this was a lovely evening, with a nice idea and lots of fun which added a new touch to a very traditional format. The audience response was excellent, and with the mix of ages and families present, it would appear that if the group’s aim with events such as these is to encourage new audiences to experience a good balance of classic and modern musical theatre, while keeping their regulars entertained before the next major production then this was achieved in spades. Congratulations to all involved, and I wish you all the best for your future productions.