Hackney Empire, London – 23 September 2017
“I’ll pull the greatest stunt this business has seen”… I can’t be doing with supermarkets who are already starting to stock mince pies but it was hard not to feel that Christmas had come early, such were the heady delights of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s latest venture Mack and Mabel, directed by Shaun Kerrison.
Ostensibly, these are concert presentations of musicals but the joy in what you actually get, the bonuses that get incorporated into the creation of genuine one-off experiences makes LMTO one of the more valuable recent additions to the London theatre ecology.
So you’ve got your cast of West End names (David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes, Tiffany Graves headlining), you’ve got your orchestra of 32 (conducted by Freddie Tapner, led by Debs White), you’ve got a chorus of 16 too. And of course, you’ve got the marvelous musical, written by Michael Stewart and composed by Jerry Herman, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Hackney Empire. But not content with such riches, we also get cream pies, chorus lines, and two properly gobsmacking coups de théâtre that brought the audience to their feet.
The story of ill-fated lovers Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, against the backdrop of the early Hollywood years is an engaging one, truly elevated by Jerry Herman’s inordinately tuneful score. And told in flashback as it is, it makes a good choice for a concert staging. David Bedella’s innate charisma and charm, once again proving he has the chops to be one of our best leading men, anchored the show well, pulling all and sundry into his orbit but only stopping to pay attention when a forthright Brooklyn waitress crashes into his studio one morning.
Natasha J Barnes’ Mabel was a nifty bit of casting, a diminutive package perhaps at first glance but offering an instant jolt of electric personality from the moment she opened her mouth, and growing, blossoming into the tragic heroine who did nothing short of ripping the roof off the theatre with a simply astonishing ‘Time Heals Everything’. A real I-was-there moment, I can’t imagine anyone else packing the song quite so full of heart and hurt – Barnes deserves every credit for the way her career is now justly flourishing, make sure you don’t miss a thing she does.
And it’s a mark of how good this production was that this wasn’t the first time we’d all jumped to our feet. The first came with the surprise guest appearance of what appropriately felt like over a hundred dancers from Bird College, flooding the stalls (and the circle!) during ‘Hundreds of Girls’ providing another wow factor. And even then, there was fabulous work too from the glorious Tiffany Graves’ Lottie tapping all her troubles away with 12 dancers supporting her, Liam Tamne being all kinds of adorable as Frank, Matt Harvey and Will Arundell working some real humour into their financiers, the amount of fun the cellists seemed to be having…
Packing your one-off events with actual one-off moments is much easier said than done and if they continue in this vein, the future will surely be bright for London Musical Theatre Orchestra.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)Photos: Nick Rutter (and what beautiful pics they are)Booking until 23rd September