Prom 59: The Broadway Sound – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The title of this Prom was well chosen: the evening was a tribute not just to the composers of Broadway's golden age from the 1920s to the 60s but to the arrangers and orchestrators who made their work possible. And the joy lay in hearing show tunes rendered by the 79-strong John Wilson Orchestra, which, in vibrancy and colour, matched the Hallé's voluptuous version of Wonderful Town at the Lowry, Salford, in April.

Wilson, as the evening's prime mover, selected the items shrewdly. You heard the real sound of Broadway, alternately strident and soulful, in the ballet sequences from Richard Rodgers's On Your Toes and Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, where the brass and woodwind sections came into full play. It was also a pleasure to hear little-known songs from neglected shows. We had a romantic number from Frank Loesser's inexplicably ignored The Most Happy Fella, a wistful ballad from Rodgers's Allegro and a sprightly comic routine about expenses fiddling, deftly delivered by a quartet from the Maida Vale Singers, from Jerry Bock's Fiorello!

The big disappointment among the starry soloists was Seth MacFarlane. Famed as the animating force behind Family Guy and Ted, he proved to be a bland baritone of the kind you associate with luxury hotel lounges. He got nowhere near the fast-talking spiel of the salesman hero of The Music Man and, in a duet from Guys and Dolls, sounded less like a Runyonesque New Yorker than did his British partner, Anna-Jane Casey. Fortunately, there was fine work from Rodney Earl Clarke, who projected Ol'Man River with real passion, and Elizabeth Llewellyn, while Sierra Boggess and Julian Ovenden despatched the key love song from West Side Story as if they meant it. Far from being a procession of golden oldies, however, the evening offered a meticulous reconstruction of the big Broadway sound and a reminder of the rarely acknowledged arrangers who helped define it.

• If you're at any Prom this summer, tweet your thoughts about it to @guardianmusic using the hashtag #proms and we'll pull what you've got to say into one of our weekly roundups – or leave your comments below.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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