Tuesday 3 July 2018

Concert Review: The Light Princess in Concert (Cadogan Hall, 1 July 2018)

There are shows that you enjoy, and then there are shows that change you. An example of the latter, for me, was Samuel Adamson and Tori Amos's musical The Light Princess, which was a case of love at first sight and first hearing when I encountered it at the NT in September 2013. That love for Marianne Elliott's production only deepened across the 10 visits I made to the show - I wrote a little about why in a piece here - and it was with a heavy heart that I and many others who had connected deeply with The Light Princess bid farewell to it at the final performance in February 2014. A heavy heart - and also the sense that the musical hadn't received anything like its due from certain mainstream critics ("Saint" Lyn Gardner among them), who'd proved themselves inadequate to the task of engaging with the show's intricate, densely patterned, classically-inflected score and the highly original ways that it serves character and narrative. 

The release of the cast recording in October 2015 was a delight; still, the hope of seeing the show revived has remained. Organised by Club 11 London and Alex Parker Theatre Company, and directed by Paul Foster (Staff Director on the original production), Sunday's concert performance at Cadogan Hall went some way to fulfilling that desire. This most physical - even balletic - of musicals, with its floating heroine, requires a bold approach to movement (such as it received at the NT thanks to Steven Hoggett's startling, surreal choreography) to fully soar. But Foster's simple and unfussy concert staging - with the terrific ensemble occupying the back of the stage, the musicians, conducted by Parker, in the centre, and the leads at the front - succeeded in placing the focus firmly on the music, which sounded rich and glorious - with a chamber intensity - throughout. With so much character and narrative detail packed into the score, the show's themes of generational conflict, patriarchal tyranny and the necessity of finding your own path emerged clearly, as did the parallel arcs of its hero and heroine: she towards gravity, he towards levity, he learning the value of rebelliousness, she becoming responsible on her own terms. 

Returning to the role that she so powerfully originated, Rosalie Craig sang with all the passion, wit and sensuality of her NT performance, delivering standouts such as the yearning "My Fairy Story," the jubilant " Better Than Good," and the wrenching "No H2O" with deep feeling. Taking on the role of the Solemn Prince Digby, husband Hadley Fraser proved an unsurprisingly great sparring partner, bringing swagger to "Sealand Supremacy" and romantic spirit and sweetness to the intoxicating love duet "Althea," as well as thrillingly partnering Louis Maskell's Llewellyn on "Bitter Fate."

Gabrielle Brooks offered a winning combination of tenderness and defiance as Piper, doing well on the very complex duet pieces "Queen Material" and "The Whistleblower," and stepping forward for Craig to touch her tears on "No H2O." Trevor Dion Nicholas - the Genie of the West End's Aladdin - proved himself every inch King material with a galvanising performance as Darius that fully conveyed both the character's arrogant authority and his wounded core. As the Sergeant-at-Arms, the stylish Anna-Jane Casey took on the hilarious "Scandal" with relish; returning to her role as Falconer, Laura Pitt-Pulford maximised her "Sealand Supremacy" cameo (aka the show's "Bonnie Tyler moment"); and an on-fire David Langham tripled up spectacularly as Messers Flowers, Crabbe and Grey in the great "suitors" sequence. 

Some judicious edits set the scene and condensed the narrative so that only the omission of Darius's aria of repentance "My Little Girl's Smile" felt like a great loss. And, in a lovely surprise, the concert also restored to the score several sequences that were cut in NT previews. The addition of "Not a Fairy-tale" and Darius's death song brought the "Althea Selma Isadora Darcy" theme to completion beautifully, while tweaks to individual lines kept things fresh and interesting throughout. ("I'd rather eat my spleen" declared Althea on her great face-off with the King at the start of "Queen Material".)

With the swell and soar of the voices on the majestic finale "Coronation" "ringing out" across the hall and inspiring a standing ovation, the love for this most loving of musicals was moving to witness. What emerged afresh was the huge ambition, originality and emotional range of the show, conveyed through music that's as thrillingly diverse as it is wonderfully cohesive. The show needs - and deserves - another full production soon. Still, this heartwarming evening proved conclusively that there's more than one way of feeling Light

See concert photos here: https://www.club11.london/light-princess-photos/ 

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