I've been a big fan of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra ever since I was invited to their launch gala in July of last year, and interviewed its founder and principal conductor Freddie Tapner. I loved their concert staging of Rodgers & Hammerstein's State Fair at Cadogan Hall, and while I was gutted to miss out on Alan Menken's A Christmas Carol during the festive season as I was spending it overseas with my family, I made sure to add their 2017 performance dates to my calendar as soon as they were released so I wouldn't miss another one.
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, LMTO for short, was previously a rehearsal orchestra only for both established musical theatre musicians and newcomers, where they would rehearse and play through full shows behind closer doors. They opened the doors to the wider public with their first public performances last year, though they do still perform private run-throughs as well. The public shows too are made up of established and new musicians, allowing them to perform in West End spaces and with an incredible amount of talent on stage and behind the scenes.
Their latest public show, Honeymoon in Vegas, attracted a particularly talented and well-known creative team, with not only the show's composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World) conducting the entire show himself as the LMTO's first guest conductor (while it was a shame not to see Freddie Tapner it was amazing to see JRB conduct and perform), but the cast of actors comprising from the likes of Arthur Darvill (Once, Doctor Who), Samantha Barks (Les Misérables film and stage), Simon Lipkin (Rock of Ages, Assassins), and Maxwell Caulfield (Chicago, The Rocky Horror Show) – West End royalty.
Based on the 1992 film by the same name starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicholas Cage, Honeymoon in Vegas tells the story of freshly engaged couple Jack (Arthur Darvill) and Betsy (Samantha Barks) who decide to get married in Vegas. It sounds simple, but the love birds' plans are turned upside by the ghost of Jack's mother haunting and taunting him (on her death bed he promised her to never get married) and another man locking his eyes on Betsy in Vegas, determined to sweep her off her feet while Jack is distracted by his dead mother.
Adapted for the stage by Andrew Bergman (the original screenwriter) with new music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, describing this musical in a single word it would be 'fun'. This show is a non-stop roller-coaster of laughs interspersed with a killer score. The music is quite different from Jason Robert Brown's other shows but the swing-style songs perfectly fit the Vegas setting – and adds a touch of the golden-age musicals to this otherwise contemporary story. All the songs were fabulous, but particular highlights to me were I Love Betsy, Ever'day is Happy in Hawaii (reminiscent of the title song in Dirty Rotten Socundrels, in fact there was more than a touch of DRS to the show), Airport Song, Finale, and the hilarious Friki Friki and Higher Love.
Of course a big attribution to the music sounding so sensational was the incredible LMTO performing it. Even in the prestigious West End it's very rare for a full orchestra to perform the music of a show on a night-to-night basis, but hearing these remarkable arrangements added an entire new level of depth to the musical and the experience – and man, they were so good! And for the actual composer to be conducting the orchestra (not to mention, performing on an instrument once or twice himself as well) was absolutely amazing. We, as an audience, were truly spoiled that night.
And while this was a concert staging of Honeymoon at Vegas, the cast were fantastic and gave it them all. They didn't just stand in front of the microphones singing their lines; they showed depth and emotion to their performances, acting in the limited space left on the stage with the full orchestra behind them. Samantha Bark's voice was stunning and it was beautiful hearing it ring through the beautiful space of the London Palladium, but it was Arthur Darvill's classic tones and hilarious renditions that I was most impressed by. There is a particular scene in Hawaii that had the audience in stitches purely because of his performance, and similarly there is a skydive scene that is highly memorable because of his impeccable comedic timing. Another show-stealer, as always, was Simon Lipkin who was clearly destined to be a Vegas showman.
Honeymoon in Vegas at the London Palladium really was incredible and it was easily the best LMTO concert yet. At the end of the show, Jason Robert Brown noted that we're incredibly lucky to have the LMTO in London, and he's quite right as it felt like a privilege being able to witness this show with its full orchestrations; there is nothing quite like it. I'm very excited to see not only their next show in July, Candide at Cadogan Hall, but also what else they will have in store for us later in 2017 and in the coming years.
The LMTO's next show is Candide at Cadogan Hall on 21 July 2017.