There are a number of components intrinsic to the Christmas festive period, whether wished for dreams or actual reality: families and friends getting together, picturesque snow scenes, Christmas decorations and festive lights, pantomimes, presents, traditional Christmas food and drink, Christmas music playlists – and, of course, Christmas concerts.
Concerts can be a rather ‘love it or hate it’ creation for regular musical theatre enthusiasts – too static for those who love the big dance production numbers, musically mediocre compared to full shows (nothing to ‘hide’ behind vocally), without a flowing narrative or plot, lacking in the scenery, costumes, lighting and sound effects that all combine to bring musical theatre vividly to life on stage; a significant reason why they are listed but rarely reviewed here.
Well, BMT promised to bring an “extra special festive magic” with “traditional carols, modern holiday hits and a few musical theatre favourites” to “blend together for an evening that is not to be missed” – and this they did with panache. Although it’s true that the atmospheric venue of Highcliffe Castle meant that the big production elements were not part of the evening’s entertainment, It Feels Like Christmas is a window into the musical delights that this company undoubtedly possesses in depth.
Musical Director James Stead, who also compered the evening, ensured that the harmonies were tight, extremely well balanced (which is vocally very impressive with the women to men ratio predominantly in favour of the ladies) and superb diction throughout, in both solos and ensemble numbers. Sitting at the back of the Castle’s chapel, I could hear every single word, no matter who was singing nor which accent was being used – and the accents, English or American, were spot on. The voices, accompanied by Stead’s keyboard, chimes and backing tracks, were bright and melodious, and the joyous smiles from the performers radiated back to the audience.
The small performance area meant that big dance numbers were unable to be staged, but the choreographed movements from Lisa Stead, James Dixon-Box and Mechelle Arrowsmith were presented with sharp precision and synchronicity, with many of the individuals showing the added flair, poise and characterizations that, combined with the wonderful vocal performances, leaves me most eager to watch BMT’s future full stage musical productions*.
With such a comprehensive and cohesive collaboration from the company (and an unexpected cameo appearance!), you might think that it would be impossible to have specific highlights from the evening, and no doubt these will be different for each member of the audience as music is so subjective and emotive. My personal highlights included the powerful vocals from Hayley Mitchell, the more mellow tones of Rachel Boucher, Martin Boucher’s delightful rendition of ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’, the complex and oh so difficult a cappella ‘Carol Of The Bells’, the delightful twist of adults singing songs from musicals more usually associated with children, the practically perfect selection from Mary Poppins (both original and sequel shows), the solo vocals from Rossano Sal (who hits the higher notes with apparently effortless precision) and the magical Disney and Muppets medleys; but my absolute personal favourite performances of the night were the outstanding rendition of Sondheim’s devilishly demanding ‘Giants In The Sky’ from Into The Woods, performed here by Dixon-Box, and the two numbers from the musical City Of Angels, with wonderful featured vocals from Maddi Selfe, Stead and Sal.
BMT invite you to “bring your family along to one of these very special shows and bring your Christmas spirit to life”. You have one last chance to do this with their final performance of the year at St Aldhelms Church, Branksome on Saturday 21 December, 7.30pm; if you’re in the vicinity, give yourself an early Christmas treat and make your way there! Happy Christmas, everyone!
(* BMT’s next production, 9 To 5 The Musical, will be coming to the Regent Centre, Christchurch in May 2020)