There is a general problem for staging compilation shows: for copyright reasons, the songs may not be staged in the manner of the original show. SMS took a simple, creative way around this problem for their tour of modern musicals: they gave the songs to singers of the opposite gender. On the whole, this worked very well indeed - from Daniel Ferrett’s camp rendition of ‘Dance 10: Looks 3’ (from A Chorus Line) through to serious treatments - in my view Karla Brown’s performance of ‘Bui Doi’ (from Miss Saigon) was more moving than the last professional version I saw. There were a few pieces that didn’t work as well - Greased Lightning, for example was played and sung very well, but giving it to a female lead pitched the voices into the same range as the backing, blurring the musical colours.
It was a big show. The musical train stopped at 14 stations for 13 musicals (two visits to We Will Rock You) taking us from 1970 (Jesus Christ Superstar) to the present day (The Book of Mormon). Covering so much ground meant lots of rapid changes of lead singers and ensembles; a great work-out for the performers and very entertaining for the audience, but a headache for the sound desk, needing to change between multiple combinations of head mics after very little rehearsal time in the theatre.
A few personal highlights: excellent use of the galleries of the Berry Theatre in ‘We Will Rock You’, with the cast playing the auditorium walls; the tap dancers in ‘Born to Hand Jive’; Carrie Bellet’s fabulous rendition of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (from Rock of Ages); there were even a couple of a cappella numbers. Indeed, a lot of effort had gone into the musical arrangements, so we were treated to a barber’s shop quartet performance of ‘Paradise City’ (from Rock of Ages) and more complex, rich vocal textures for ‘La Vie Boheme’ (from Rent).
A wide variety of musical styles and excellent performances made a thoroughly entertaining evening.