The London Musical Theatre Orchestra is less than two years old, begun with nothing more than an unassuming Facebook post. Here they are in 2016, accompanying an all-star cast and receiving a screaming standing ovation at Cadogan Hall. The orchestra was smiling out of joy for the music – they obviously felt privileged to be there – how often does that happen? And this could be seen among the Olivier award winning cast too. And the entire audience. Such is the profound joy of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical performed as it should be, by an entire orchestra hell-bent on bringing every iota of schmaltz to its full potential.
State Fair, a relatively unknown musical that has never been performed in the UK in full symphonic form, worked brilliantly in concert. What might have come across as light-hearted or silly was rendered life-affirming and sincere by the cast, all current West End creme de la creme. Celinde Schoenmaker brought a robust and playful voice to Margy Frake, absolutely authentic to the period with just the odd hint of contemporary belt, and Emma Hatton blew the roof off with the electric big band number You Never Had It So Good. In a concert full of highlights it’s difficult to single anything out.
The star of the show was the LMTO brass section, which blasted their way through the jazz numbers (who knew that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote such great jazz numbers?) and the dance breaks of other sung numbers, especially the thrilling ensemble number All I Owe Ioway. I was worried that we wouldn’t get to hear the strings over all that big band brass, but in Act II, especially in the underscoring, we were treated to a warm blanket of romantic golden age strings. It’s also worth mentioning the flawless tech, which balanced the orchestra and singers beautifully.
Musical Theatre in general is often dismissed as simplistic or artless in compared with ‘proper music’, especially among conductors. The LMTO show us just how much skill and artistry is required in every second of performance, and how much unbridled joy that can bring to everyone involved. Freddie Tapner, the exceptionally talented conductor and artistic director of the LMTO, is more than just a savvy Facebook user. It is obviously his passion for musical theatre which we hear through the orchestra and the singers, and which we palpably felt in the audience too. I cannot wait to see this orchestra go from strength to strength.