‘Musical Theatre Gala’ was refreshing.
If you take the talents of skilled vocalists Amy Lehpamer, Alexander Lewis, Lucinda Wilson and Aidan O Cleirigh, add Musical Theatre students from Queensland Conservatorium and the expertise of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, the result is going to be an incredible Musical Gala Event worthy of a standing ovation.
The 2022 ‘Musical Theatre Gala’ was indeed worthy.
QPAC’s Concert Hall was a-buzz with the adrenalin that only a live orchestra tuning up can give. From the onset, conductor and host, Guy Noble, endeared the audience with humour. Noble’s warm and somewhat casual tone made the audience feel like they were part of an intimate conversation in a homely space, rather than sitting in the expansive 1600-seat packed auditorium.
The Gala event featured well-known songs from Gershwin, Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Schwartz, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and others. Amy Lehpamer and Alexander Lewis performed the majority of the songs, changing their tone, stance and vocal delivery to suit the style of the pieces. Lehpamer’s opening number, ‘All that Jazz’ from ‘Chicago’, was sultry and strong. Here, she was joined by the Bachelor of Musical Theatre students from Queensland Conservatorium. Unfortunately, the choir microphones were not quite powerful enough to pick up their voices in this number and the harmonies were lost with the strength of the lead vocalist and the orchestra.
Lehpamer’s powerhouse voice was balanced beautifully against the exquisite soaring soprano voice of Lucinda Wilson in ‘A Boy Like That’ from ‘West Side Story’. Wilson demonstrated excellent control throughout, especially in the ballad section of the song. Together, these two dynamos, dressed stunningly in white and green formal dresses, raised the roof with their contrasting rhythms and energy. It was refreshing to see this number recontextualised in style.
Alexander Lewis is an accomplished opera singer and musical theatre performer. With the absence of traditional costuming, Lewis relied on his proficient storytelling techniques, facial expressions and gestures to bring characterisation to each song. His command of the stage space and incredible diction held the audience’s focus, while each number took us on a different emotional journey.
Lehpamer’s version of ‘Popular’ from the musical ‘Wicked’ was innovative. In its original context, the song is performed by Glinda to Elphaba as she attempts to convince her to conform to her standards. Lehpamer delivered the number as though she was converting the audience to popularity with a distinct Australian twang. Moments like these displayed careful thought about the audience’s engagement with the work and were highly successful.
Audience engagement progressed to participation, with Lehpamer inviting the entire audience to sing ‘Do Re Mi’ from the
‘Sound of Music’ with her as an encore.
The Queensland Symphony Orchestra are a pure delight to listen to. Their crisp notes and dynamics are first-class. Under Guy Noble’s direction, there was a real sense of joy, passion and connection to the pieces they were playing. While it is hard to single out any particular instrument, the double bass players seemed to particularly enjoy the workout that ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ provided, the flutes got a special chance to shine in the title song from ‘The Sound of Music’ and the first violinist, Warwick Adeney, delivered a gorgeous solo.
It is rare to hear musical theatre songs performed with a full orchestra. Nothing compares to the sound of full instrumentation to bring to life the powerful music of these classic works. Much work must have been done to re-orchestrate some of these numbers for the QSO. ‘Herod’s Song’ from the rock musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, was light compared to its usual heavy rock feel, but even in this number, the strings featured as the song progressed. The use of a headset microphone for this number, allowed vocalist Aidan O Cleirigh to deliver the song with choreography, supported by two animated dancers from the Bachelor of Musical Theatre program. O Cleirigh’s liveliness and humorous facial expressions conveyed the satirical feel of the piece. Shout out to the tuba player, Thomas Allely, in this number, who didn’t disappoint with 100% precision.
The program flowed effortlessly with direct segues from one number to the next. In some instances, songs were introduced with some storytelling about the performer or the history of the work. This contributed to the personal feel of the show and was the perfect amount of speaking to orientate the audience to the pieces.
One final highlight that must be mentioned was the Act One finale, ‘One Day More’ from ‘Les Miserables’. While the students from the Bachelor of Musical Theatre program are not listed individually in the program, the young performer who sang the role of ‘Marius’ deserves a special mention. Although they appeared to be slightly nervous performing a solo, this young performer has a sophisticated and powerful voice with superb tones – one to watch out for in the future.
There is sometimes a sense of elitism or even a stigma that is attached to performances by a professional orchestra in a grand location such as the QPAC Concert Hall. The beauty of this event was the conversational tone, the anecdotes, the energy and fun that everyone on stage brought to the show to make the audience feel relaxed, included and involved.
The ‘Musical Theatre Gala’ was performed on Saturday, 29 October 2022 for two shows only. For more information about upcoming Queensland Symphony Orchestra events, visit their website.
Photographer Peter Wallis