Some Enchanted Evening, Cadogan Hall, London ★★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

Spanning over 60 years, the career of composer Richard Rodgers, in his partnerships with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, is celebrated by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, a choir from Arts Educational Schools, and a quartet of musical theatre’s most well-known faces.

Lesley Garrett is an appropriate choice as host and emcee for the event. While she first stepped into Rodgers’ world professionally by playing the Mother Abbess in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, the opera singer has often spoken at length about how the recordings of such musicals were a big part of her childhood and prompted her to pursue a career in music in the first place.

Her script in the show mentions none of this, choosing sensibly to focus on filling the narrative gaps as the musical pieces progress chronologically through Rodgers’ back catalogue. It’s a workmanlike approach which very much lets the music do the talking – save for a few asides and attempts at jokes which, whether scripted or unscripted, can’t help but fall flat.

Garrett is joined by Ruthie Henshall, Michael Xavier and Gary Wilmot, each of whom would be enough to headline such an evening: with all three on top vocal form here, there’s a rich selection of performances to pick on.

From Babes in Arms, Xavier’s ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ and Henshall’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ set out the stall quite clearly: no embellishments, no genre-breaking rearrangements, just some great orchestral performances of classic songs sung by consummate professionals. And rounding out the Babes in Arms segment, the Arts Ed choir sings and dances (to choreography by Kevan Allen) the show’s title number, demonstrating that there is more to them than just standing behind an orchestra and singing.

The chronological approach means that Lorenz Hart’s contribution fades away midway through Act I, marking the point at which Rodgers switched his creative partnership to Oscar Hammerstein II and the then genre-busting Oklahoma! As Wilmot sings ‘The Surrey With the Fringe on Top’, he feels like the least comfortable performer here, with neither Hart’s more cynical lyrics nor Hammerstein’s sentimental streak really playing to his strengths. But throughout, Wilmot projects the air of a man having a ball, and when he does that it’s near impossible for an audience to feel any different.

Garrett’s own operatic voice is, of course, on frequent show. There are so many songs in the Rodgers back catalogue (especially within his Hammerstein collaborations) that seem tailor-made for her diva belt, from Cousin Nettie in Carousel to, of course, the Mother Abbess herself. The absence of a voice such as Garrett’s from an evening such as this would surely drive a hole through its ability to showcase music from all eras of Rodgers’ life.

As Act II progresses through the Rodgers and Hammerstein hits, from South Pacific to a rousing Sound of Music-based medley as the finale, it is perhaps inevitable that an evening celebrating the depth and breadth of Rodgers’ professional work focuses instead on the easy charms of his most well-known and beloved numbers.

There are occasional lesser-known treats, such as the orchestra’s performance of the music from the ballet sequence ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ from On Your Toes and ‘A Lovely Night’ from Cinderella. But any programme of work trying to cram 60 years’ worth of classic musical theatre is going to have to omit hours of superlative composition, and the fragments of Rodgers’ career on show are a superb example of why his legacy will endure long into the future.

Images from the event below by Alex MacNaughton