On The Town (Royal Albert Hall: BBC Proms) JohnnyFox August 28, 2018 Music, Musicals, Reviews John Wilson is fantastic. The London Symphony Orchestra is fantastic. Headline singers like Louise Dearman, Celinde Schoenmaker, Nadim Naaaman: all fantastic. Leonard Bernstein was fantastic. So why is the BBC Prom of On The Town, on Bernstein’s 100th birthday for heaven’s sake, so much less than the sum of these fantastic parts? Detaching John Wilson from his hand-picked own-brand orchestra may be the principal felony. Sure, he can whip the LSO into a frenzy but for such a brassy score as On The Town this is a hell of a string-rich orchestra. There’s also a synergy with musical theatre that makes the John Wilson Orchestra, players with the virtuosity of the conservatoire but the soul of a pit band, so much more ideal for this kind of gig. As they were at West Side Story this same Prom season. I wondered if my unease stemmed from the sailors seeming quite young in their roles – in wartime the US Navy enlisted men up to the age of 44, but actually Nadim Naaman, Fra Fee and Nathaniel Hackmann being early thirties are not so far adrift from the sailors in the movie – Gene Kelly was 37, Sinatra 34 and the other one also 34. I guess it’s just that in 1949, thirtysomething actors playing sailors looked older. Blame moisturizer. And the fact they wear scrappy t-shirts and jeans instead of the authentic white sailor suits. But the fact remains they ‘sing’ younger – there’s just something less worldly, or world-weary in Sinatra’s case, about their energetic vocals that actually doesn’t quite suit all the lyrics and melodies of Bernstein’s opus. The reflective valedictory beauty of the near-final quartet ‘Some Other Time’ isn’t just about the ending of a day’s fun, but a regretful comment on everything that’s gone, and everything that’s gone wrong when a country is at war. If you want to see what I mean, Spotify Frederica von Stade’s version with Tyne Daly and David Garrison in the 2013 recording with, funnily enough, this same orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas. The album also includes Cleo Laine singing ‘Ain’t Got No Tears Left’, a shameful exclusion from this concert. It’s less awkward with the girls – Celinde Shoenmaker is spot-on with the notes, even if a pair of specs aren’t enough to make her ‘professorial’ as Claire de Loone, but Louise Dearman is a worthy Hildy, the running-off-at-the-mouth cab driver. A real pleasure comes from the two performers with operatic backgrounds – in Claire Moore’s increasingly drunken Madam Dilly, and the resonant brazier of Barnaby Rea‘s bass first warming the chill Brooklyn dawn with ‘I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed, Yet’ or as Claire’s husband in ‘I Understand’. London-based Canadian actor Kerry Shale is a terrific narrator of audio books, but here he’s overdoing it as though trying to shout down a rioting crowd. New York, New York, it’s a helluva town The Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down But this time, even the Bronx was a bit down, too.