Rodgers & Hammerstein in London

Back in 2011, I wrote and produced a special podcast episode for The Stage, celebrating Rodgers and Hammerstein on the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music‘s debut in the West End. We no longer publicise or distribute our podcasts, so I’ve gained permission to include it here. Of the 90 or so podcasts I created for The Stage, this is by far my favourite.

Presented by Helena Blackman, who had just released an album of R&H songs (excerpts from which are dotted throughout the programme), the feature also includes contributions from The Stage/Sunday Express theatre critic Mark Shenton, readings from The Stage archives by Adam Lilley, an exploration of the legacy Oscar Hammerstein left to Southwark Cathedral – and an exclusive (if short) clip of Stephen Sondheim himself talking about the influence of his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II. More background on my original blog post about the podcast.

Presenter: Helena Blackman
Archive Readings: Adam Lilley
Archive Research: Catherine Gerbrands
Writer and Producer: Scott Matthewman
Excerpts from The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein by kind permission of Speckulation Entertainment

The podcast is copyright © 2011 The Stage Media Company Limited. All rights reserved. Uploaded and made available on this site with permission.

Helena Blackman, Delfont Room/The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein

Last night, Chad and I went to see Helena Blackman perform a short cabaret at the Delfont Room in the Prince of Wales theatre. The event was to promote and celebrate the launch of her new solo album, The Sound of Rodgers & Hammerstein, and so the evening was dominated by some R&H classics – as well as one or two of their lesser known numbers, and a few songs from elsewhere. I particularly liked the inclusion of a number from Saturday Night, the Sondheim musical Helena performed in at the Jermyn Street theatre (and which later transferred to the Arts), as it was in interviewing her about that show that I first met Helena. We have since met often, and last year we were both judges on The Stage’s Musical Voice competition to find a new singing talent.

Most cabaret performances are lucky if they get a guitarist or drummer alongside their piano accompaniment. Helena definitely scored here, with an impressive ten-piece band, led by musical director George Dyer. They were definitely needed, for the orchestrations on the album are one of its key selling points — Helena’s voice being, of course, one of the others.

The new arrangements and orchestrations are, for the main part, as beautiful and lyrical as the source material demands. One or two, though, go that little bit further into the realm of greatness. I love the offbeat start to I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, which grows into a vampish, brassy number. Love Look Away, from the (generally unloved) Flower Drum Song, becomes a smooth ballad that may be one of the least known songs on the album, but becomes one of the standout numbers. I Enjoy Being a Girl, originally from the same musical, is its polar opposite, a light and frothy number that is pitched just right here.

Of the two duets on the album, I much preferred People Will Say We’re In Love (performed with Daniel Boys) to The King and I’s I Have Dreamed (sung with Jonathan Ansell on the album and, due to Jonathan’s absence due to illness, with Daniel at last night’s concert).

The album has been eighteen months in the making, from conception to today’s release. That’s some wait in the scheme of things, but after having listened to the album several times now, it was well worth it.

The widget below includes short extracts from each track, but they really don’t do the songs justice. The album currently costs just £6.99 from Amazon.co.uk’s MP3 downloads site, so I really recommend you try it for yourself.