Concert Review: The show stopped with almost every number

Sarah Brightman

Royal Albert Hall

In the kingdom of the bland, the doe-eyed woman is queen. Loyal subjects packed out the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday night to pay homage to the monarch of the middlebrow, . Truly she has come a long way since prancing around with very little on for the Kenny Everett show.

Understatement was not on Wednesday's bill. Even the programme - pounds 5 for seven paragraphs of biography and some moody shots of Brightman peering wistfully into a lake - was overblown (but at least I learnt from it that Brightman is huge in Germany).

The overture set the tone, as the English National Orchestra threw cymbals, kettle drums and the kitchen sink at Rimsky-Korsakov. Before you could say "over the top", the stage was awash with dry ice and multi-coloured spotlights, and champagne corks were popping in the boxes. All that before Brightman had even set foot on stage.

When she did, in a diaphanous blue dress, a long wig, fluttering eyelashes and cheesy grin, the crowd went politely wild.

As she warbled her way through songs by Delibes, Puccini, Grieg, Lloyd Webber and others, Brightman went in for some seriously soulful arm-stretching, mane-tossing and face-clutching. Her passport job-description must read "Emoter".

Brightman certainly has a powerful voice, but subtlety is not her forte. Her vocal style involves more dramatic swooping than a hungry vulture. Her exaggeratedly operatic delivery during "Summertime", for instance, simply overwhelmed the nuances of Gershwin.

It also led to a certain monotony of tone. The sheer force of her voice is well-suited to show-stopping, but you don't want the show stopped with every single number.

In the most surprising moment of the evening, Brightman beckoned on a sheepish-looking man in shirt-sleeves to play the piano. "I'm so glad you could come," she gushed. "I only live around the corner, so I'd not much excuse," replied Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, meekly.

She proceeded to perch on the grand piano - think Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys without quite the same glamour - and together they ran through "Whistle Down the Wind".

Banish from your mind any ignoble ideas that the music of is for people who don't like music. The encore, her recent hit single "Time To Say Goodbye", sung with panache and accompanied by the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and a massed choir, was greeted by the sort of standing ovation, whooping and hollering the venerable Royal Albert Hall usually only witnesses at the Last Night of the Proms.

During "I Feel Pretty", Brightman trilled: "I feel stunning and entrancing." I didn't think she was, but several thousand others obviously did.