Ruthie Henshall's new concert tour is musical theatre heaven. It is also a seriously classy event. You can tell that because it's a strictly black-tie affair. The chorus of 34 (recruited from the local am-dram fraternity) and an on-stage orchestra of 20, under the direction of Richard Balcombe, are dressed to kill in their best bib and tucker. Henshall herself sports a gorgeous aqua-blue ball gown in the first half and a stunning white trouser suit in the second.
Accompanying her are two strong voices - Alex Bourne, a veteran of Buddy, Grease, and Beauty and the Beast and diminutive Canadian Tim Howar, last seen with Henshall in the ill-fated Peggy Sue Got Married.
The repertoire is safe and familiar - that is to say, a lot of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Les Mis but no Sondheim. This is a bit of a shame because the two point numbers from Cy Coleman's City of Angels ("You Can Always Count on Me" and "I'm Nothing Without You") show all three performers at their best.
The evening gets off to a rather uncertain start with no overture (again, a pity) and a slow burn version of "All That Jazz" from Chicago and we are four or five numbers in before Henshall breaks the ice with an audience welcome. On the first night, there were also some memory lapses over lyrics, which were covered with charm and good humour. This will surely be sorted during the tour.
If anyone ever doubted that Henshall is the current musical theatre diva, then this showing should prove decisively disarming. Her range is excellent and, in selling a number, she can do charm, sex and pathos with equal ease. For me, her duets with Howar are highlights. "If I Loved You", "I Have Dreamed" and "All I Ask of You" are all sung beautifully and with great care.
A word about Howar, the most unlikely looking leading man but nevertheless a real star in the making if ever there was one. He has a beautiful voice that's both strong and true, and he sings with passion and conviction. Bourne also sings well, but for my taste, is a little soulless. The two men in duet do have a couple of high spots, however, including an excellent version of Cole Porter's "Well Did You Evah".
The concert doesn't credit a director and, to an extent, this lack of leadership shows. Since all the numbers are performed in their full orchestral arrangements, the artistes sometimes look a little like beached whales, stranded centre stage during the musical bridges. A little stage business should fix that. For their part, the orchestra provides excellent and sympathetic accompaniment throughout, as does the rather underused choir.
This is an evening of almost undiluted pleasure for both Ruthie lovers and anyone who swoons over well sung stage music.
- Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at Bromley's Churchill Theatre)