The next time someone tries to tell me Facebook is a bad thing (I have a colleague who tells me this with monotonous regularity, so it undoubtedly won’t be long), I plan to tell them the story of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra. In 2015, Freddie Tapner wrote a casual post looking for fellow musicians to play through a musical, just for fun. 24 hours later, he’d received over 250 replies – and two weeks after that, LMTO was born.
The shared passion that inspired the orchestra’s creation could be felt in abundance last night at the Lyceum Theatre, where an all-star cast joined LMTO for their one-night-only concert performance of A Christmas Carol – never more so than when founder and Principal Conductor Freddie Tapner bounded on to the stage to rapturous applause. His infectious joy was just the first highlight in an evening full of festivity, optimism and goodwill towards men.
Though the show, written by Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, is better known on Broadway than in the West End, the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is as British as they come. Grumpy old man Ebenezer Scrooge is not a fan of Christmas. Or charity. Or indeed people – and definitely not children. Not, that is, until he’s visited on Christmas Eve by the spirit of his former partner Jacob Marley, who’s now suffering for the sins he committed in life. Marley’s appearance is followed by visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who help Scrooge to finally see the error of his ways, just in time.
The cast of singers brought together the cream of West End talent, including Robert Lindsay, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Peter Polycarpou, Hugh Maynard, Madalena Alberto and Norman Bowman, to name just a few. Alongside them were several young performers who proved more than a match for their more experienced co-stars; 9-year-old Tobias Ungleson particularly shone as Tiny Tim, with a performance that hit all the right notes both musically and emotionally.
But the biggest star of the evening, appropriately, was the orchestra. So often an afterthought for musical theatre audiences, here the musicians had the opportunity to take centre stage, and they didn’t waste a moment of it. It hardly mattered that the show was in a concert format; Alan Menken’s glorious score and the orchestra’s joyous performance of it told us everything we needed to know. Though not without its darker moments – the appearance of Jacob Marley (Norman Bowman) was suitably creepy, for instance – A Christmas Carol is, for the most part, a full-on celebration of all things festive, and if anyone left the Lyceum not feeling even a little uplifted – well, frankly they should probably change their name to Scrooge now and be done with it.
In fact the whole evening was so delightful that it almost feels wrong to find fault… so please don’t call me a Grinch for quietly pointing out that there were times when the orchestra’s enthusiasm became just a little overwhelming. Despite their best efforts, the singers were occasionally drowned out, and much of the spoken dialogue – particularly Robert Lindsay’s grouchy mutterings as Scrooge – was barely audible at all. (There was also one forgotten lines moment right at the end, but it was well covered, and by that point the entire theatre was so delirious with festive cheer that nobody gave a figgy pudding anyway.)
The main downside of the evening, though, is that it was only a one-off performance and we won’t get to see it again. However, it’s clear that the London Musical Theatre Orchestra are not going anywhere, and that is certainly news to which we can raise a festive glass or two.
So Merry Christmas – and God bless us, every one!
Find out more about the London Musical Theatre Orchestra at lmto.org.