Prom 49: A Celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein/The John Wilson Orchestra

It was as close as we get to being guests on the 20th Century Fox soundstages circa.1955. As the Main Title of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! glided effortlessly into “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and the John Wilson Orchestra’s burnished trumpets poured on their sun-kissed vibrato the sound, the style, the feel of how this music in these arrangements should go was “right” – every sigh, every swoon, every refined inflection. It couldn’t have been “righter”.

Musical style comes in many guises during an average Prom season and just as last year’s MGM extravaganza showed us how “authentic period performance” extended to screen musicals so this timely tribute to the great Rodgers and Hammerstein (on the 50th anniversary of Hammerstein’s death) took us from stage to screen as only the John Wilson Orchestra knows how.

For me it was Carousel that was most eagerly anticipated – the greatest lyric score ever written for the Broadway stage – and as Rodgers’ intoxicating Waltz rolled out, all twinkling lights and gyrating rhythm in Edward B. Powell’s fabulous arrangement, the final grand reprise had Wilson pointing up the ecstatic counterpoint in tremolando violins so joyously as to instantly spirit me back to childhood.

Billy Bigelow’s famously operatic “Soliloquy” was/is as good as musical theatre gets and Julian Ovenden relished its wondrous collusion of smart, searching lyric and utterly embraceable melody. There’s enough material in this one number for a whole musical and in the final pages as Billy’s worthless life suddenly finds purpose and direction, Rodgers’ musical depiction of his vaulting determination was overwhelming. Wilson and Ovenden made it so.

Ovenden’s romantic interest was the gorgeous Sierra Boggess, a star if ever I’ve seen and heard one, and their “conditional” love duets from Oklahoma! and Carousel struck the perfect balance between “covert flirtation” and desire. Boggess lent her own very personal twist on Julie Andrews for the two numbers written specially for the film, nailing the mix of soprano and chest in “I Have Confidence in Me” like it was written for her not Andrews.

Casting was pretty much spot-on right down to all the solo spots from the Maida Vale Singers. I personally wanted much more of everything from Rod Gilfry in the two great South Pacific ballads, but Anna-Jane Casey creamed the sassy numbers and Kim Criswell unwrapped her whole soprano and then some to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”.

But Wilson and his Orchestra were once again the show-stoppers and thinking of the wowsy dance break from “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” who said Hollywood couldn’t do variation form?

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