It seems no time since I was at Brighton Open Air Theatre to watch and hear the Actually’s fringe show featuring three excellent sopranos. A fun and very inclusive outing for the choir, delightful in many ways but acoustically challenging, which detracted from the luscious ensemble male voice sounds that I have come to expect from them.

Back indoors in the rich acoustic of St Mary’s Kemp Town I was eager to see and hear how the choir had developed the earlier programme to create Overtures & Encores. This time there were no female voices to add to the dynamic range of the sound, but the dynamic was more than made up for in a space suited to choral singing and enhanced by a sound team who knew what they were doing. Colleagues baulk at amplification and when it is bad I am totally in agreement, but this crew knew what they were doing for sure. In addition to this the band were joined by a new keyboard player, Sam Mileberg, his playing added a lush orchestral element to the whole, three players sounding appropriately like a West End pit orchestra.

And that West End or Broadway sound was just the ticket for an evening of musical theatre magic. The show opened with a touch of that theatrical magic, an auction plucked from Phantom Of The Opera gave voice to a tribute to their sadly missed patron Jason Sutton and the church echoed to the rich organ motifs from that show.

Then in stark and sinister contrast out loped Tom Slater-Hyndman, vest, bondage trousers, heels and dicky, topped of by a conical clown hat, sneering at the audience he delivered the opening number, Willkomen, from Cabaret – and how! It was stunning, word and note and nuance perfect. Tom set the bar very high.

Next a favourite of mine, One from A Chorus Line, showing the full force of this choir in a great arrangement that showed off the choir’s commitment to precise timing and of course Sam Cousins’ conducting skills.

Next some less familiar Kander and Ebb, two numbers from Woman Of The Year featuring Alan Baser and Nick Paget. At this point I will mention that this choir feature many soloists and ensembles, but nearly always backed by the full force, or indeed gentle accompaniment, of the full chorus. It lifts those moments above, dare I suggest it, karaoke, but it also gives the audience opportunity to see just how the members of this choir work as a cohesive unit.

A bit of Lloyd Webber from the ill fated Love Never Dies next and then Sondheim’s assertive Being Alive in a delicious arrangement by the talented Simon Gray.

One of my favourite Kander and Ebb shows is Kiss Of The Spider Woman which I saw back in 1992. It was amazing but only had a short run and on hearing the choir tackle this, and nail it, I do still wonder why.

A Dear Evan Hansen medley worked well, the songs are undoubtedly good even if the concept of the full musical is rather strange and murkily millennial. But to lift us out of that we had some classic Hollywood joy in three masterful movie memories. And onward with Luck Be A Lady from Guys and Dolls.

Never shy of a challenge the final number in part one, leaving us on the cliff hanger that our narrators for the evening had forecast, we get Stephen Sondheim’s Not Getting Married Today, a startlingly complex trio, the pious priest, the loved up groom and his panicking partner who takes the concept of a patter song to extraordinary heights. All three excellent as is Sam Cousins’ arrangement, but my word, hats off to Andrew Whitlaw for his breathtaking performance. What a way to head into the interval.

Act two opened with Bui Doi, one of the highlights of their Fringe show, moving stuff always with the big hit from Miss Saigon and a great way to open before heading into their second number. Soloist Philip Lloyd Davies has a big rounded voice filled with passion, and just right for this anthemic number.

One of my favourite shows of recent years has to be The Book Of Mormon, the show written by Parker, Lopez and Stone pillages almost every musical of the twentieth century, filching motifs left right and centre to create an hilarious whole. But musically the highlight of the show, and one of the highlights of this concert, hast to be Hello. Hello is wonderfully silly and scarily complex for the singers I am sure, timing is everything and they got it absolutely right, perfectly delivered.

Patrick Bullock and Tom Slater-Hyndman then gave us the comic duet If You We’re Gay. It showed so well that a song needs more than just being well sung, it needs to be given a full performance, acted out and these two were very definitely out!

Alan Baser next to play Mame and Dolly for two popular show songs that gave full rein to the sound of a male voice choir that the team are more than capable of, and in the church it worked far better than in the open air earlier this his year.

Taking on Sondheim, so much of his work is challenging, is brave and the song Agony from Into The Woods shows great bravery. It’s a complex duet with tricky timing and difficult lyrics. But despite a minor stumble Philip Lloyd Davies and Andrew Whitlaw pulled it off.

“If it were not for the thicket, A thicket’s no trick, is it thick It’s the thickest. The quickest is pick it apart with a stick, Yes but even one prick, it’s my thing about blood Well it’s sick”.

Try getting your tongue around that lot and staying in tune and on the beat, yes quite a feat of musical dexterity.

Ian Hollands and Alan Kite gave us Into The Fire from a show I do not know, The Scarlet Pimpernel, but one I will now have to investigate, good stuff. Then the ubiquitous slice of Les Mis with Bring Him Home, it had to be there and it had to be done well which of course they did and it certainly worked well sat in front of  Patrick Bullock’s delightful rendering of You’ll Be Back from Hamilton. Bullock has excellent comic timing.

Not sure why we got Nessun Dorma from Turandot, good as it was and with some very beautiful spine tingling solo moments from Thomas Price, no idea how it sat within the theme.

This Is The Hour was the penultimate offering, Boublil and Schöenberg offering a richness of sound that the choir embraced with heart and finally a Broadway medley to round things off.

The Actually Gay Men’s Chorus never fail to delight but on this occasion they set the standard so very high. This was a well thought out programme of great music, comedy, emotion, pomp and delicacy finely balanced and expertly delivered. They present well, finely detailed, stylishly turned out, yes I spotted all those black patent dress shoes, the badges for the Mormons, a simple crown… but above all this is about the quality of the singing and a finely drilled ensemble, and this they gave us in spades.

Andrew Kay

21 June

St Mary’s Kemp Town


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