Interview: Freddie Tapner, London Musical Theatre Orchestra

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra exploded onto the West End stage last year with their five-star concert performances of State Fair and A Christmas Carol. This Sunday, they’re launching their 2017 season at the London Palladium with Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas, starring Maxwell Caulfield, Samantha Barks and Arthur Darvill. And to think all this began with a simple Facebook post…

“It was mid-May 2015, and I was playing through the piano score to Phantom of the Opera, when I realised that it would be considerably more fun to play it through with a full orchestra,” explains LMTO founder and Musical Director, Freddie Tapner. “I posted on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to join me and make it happen, and 24 hours later I had 250 people signed up. I honestly thought I might find 25 – to find 250 keen people in such a short space of time was amazing.

“I never in a million years expected to be where we are now – the success of the orchestra has taken us all by surprise. It’s not to say it has happened by accident; we’re lucky to have an astonishing team of people driving this machine who work tirelessly to create the magic on stage. Shaun Kerrison, our regular Director, happened upon us by chance and is now one of our closest allies. Mike Robertson, an Olivier Award winning lighting designer, is a joy to work with and produces show stopping moments I wouldn’t even know how to describe, let alone create from nothing. Avgoustos Psillas and Nick Lidster from the Autograph sound team make LMTO concerts sound glorious, epic and truly orchestral – and that, after all, is what it’s all about. We’re riding a wave of luck and I don’t want to get off!

“The only expectation I have ever had from LMTO is that it would always be fun. We have moved in the direction which allows us as an organisation to create the most enjoyable concerts possible, for our audience, yes, but also our players and performers. Without fun on stage, concerts can be terribly boring.”

Photo credit: Jamie Scott-Smith

The last two years have brought several highlights for Freddie. “Personal highlights for me will always be about people. Meeting and working with these amazing artists is something we all dream of doing, and I’m lucky enough to do it every day in rehearsals. The highlight for LMTO must be our sold out concert of A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre – moments like that remind you that what we’re doing is really welcomed by audiences.”

LMTO’s first show of 2017 is romantic comedy Honeymoon in Vegas, based on the 1992 movie starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker. “Honeymoon in Vegas is SUCH a brilliant show,” enthuses Freddie. “It’s a proper Broadway comedy musical, complete with huge big band numbers, samba rhythms and sweeping Jason Robert Brown melodies which will take your breath away. It follows the story of Jack and Betsy, as they run away to get married in Las Vegas – but others have plans to disrupt, even cancel their wedding. I don’t want to say anymore, otherwise I’ll spoil the story!

“The show has all the hallmarks of a great musical which works in concert format. The songs are idiomatic, powerful and so fulfilling that they stand on their own two feet without needing the structure of a full production. Although set in the present day, the story is in many ways a Las Vegas myth, a legend which could take place in any time in the last 50 years – which means the music takes us through all of the big Broadway styles. If there is one thing LMTO loves, it’s a big Broadway tune!”

Like their previous concerts, which have featured stars including Robert Lindsay, Wendi Peters, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Celinde Schoenmaker, Honeymoon in Vegas boasts a stellar line-up of West End talent, and Freddie couldn’t be happier. “We’re thrilled to have such a talented cast on board. Samantha Barks is someone I’ve wanted to work with ever since I saw her sing Defying Gravity on the BBC’s I’d Do Anything programme. Having started work with her already, she’s perfect for the part of Betsy.

“Musical theatre followers will know Arthur Darvill from Once, but his current thrust is TV/film work, so it’s a delight to be bringing him back to the stage. Maxwell Caulfield is a living legend, and his oozing charm and effortless charisma make him the perfect Tommy. Rosie Ashe – Dame Rosie to her friends – is a class act, and as the original Carlotta from Phantom, I grew up listening to her voice on the recording. Simon Lipkin has played pretty much every comedy part going in the last ten years, and his comedy chops will be really brought into play as he gives his Roy in Act 2 – a high singing, high flying, high jumping Elvis impersonator. I could go on and on – the entire cast are glorious.”

For the first time, Freddie’s handing his baton to a guest conductor – the show’s composer, Jason Robert Brown. “It is nothing but a pleasure to be able to share the fun of conducting LMTO with Jason,” says Freddie. “All of my favourite conducting experiences have been with LMTO, because every person in the orchestra truly loves the music we’re working on. That makes such a difference: it produces an extra spark, an extra precision and extra care to produce the goods come show time. I think on the night I’ll be sad not to be up there, but overall it’s a really positive experience – I get to sit and watch the show for once, after all!”

The concert marks the beginning of an exciting season for LMTO: “Next up will be a trip to St Albans Cathedral where we’ll present our first compilation show: A Night on Broadway. Featuring all of your favourite showtunes, we’re going to rock one of the biggest churches in the country for one night only on Saturday 13th May. Then we go back in time, to Bernstein’s masterpiece Candide. We’ll be tackling this astonishing work back at Cadogan Hall – tickets for this are already beginning to disappear, showing that this score is ever popular.”

Don’t miss Honeymoon in Vegas at the London Palladium on Sunday 12th March.

Smile! A Fundraising Concert for Nathan

On 12th February, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford will be hosting Smile! a fundraising concert featuring a stellar cast of West End performers, in support of seven-year-old Nathan Box. Nathan has a rare brain tumour called Hypothalamic Harmartoma, which causes him to have more than 25 seizures daily and is having a devastating effect on his everyday life and development. He recently appeared on ITV News – this video contains some upsetting footage.

facebook-cover

The good news is that Nathan’s condition is curable; the bad is that the necessary treatment’s only available in Texas. His family have successfully raised the £100k they need to pay for the treatment itself, but now need to find an additional £50k to cover flights, accommodation, extra tests, scans, travel insurance and any added costs they may encounter when Nathan’s in the States.

Tickets for Smile! cost just £30, which is a bargain price to see a cast of over 100 including the likes of Lyn Paul (Blood Brothers), Simon Lipkin (Avenue Q), Dean Chisnall (Shrek The Musical) and Hugh Maynard (Miss Saigon), along with a live 42-piece orchestra led by the current musical director of Blood Brothers. The performers are all giving their time for free and every penny collected from ticket sales will go to Nathan. And thanks to an anonymous donor, all the money raised by the concert up to £20k will be doubled, meaning the family could raise as much as £40k in one night.

all-so-far

For anyone who can’t make it to the concert but would like to show their support, there’ll also be a sponsored seat scheme. This again costs £30, and every sponsored seat purchased is donated to Ellenor Children’s Hospice, allowing a child in their care a free night out at the theatre.

This promises to be a spectacular night of musical theatre, for a really good cause. To book tickets visit the Orchard Theatre website, or to purchase a sponsored seat, call the Ticket Office on 01322 220000.

Or find out more and help spread the word by following Smile For Nathan on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Here’s the full cast list so far:

LYN PAUL– New Seekers, Blood Brothers, Taboo, Cabaret
HUGH MAYNARD– John in Miss Saigon (West End & DVD), Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, A Christmas Carol, The Lion King, Notre Dame De Paris, Follies, We Will Rock You, Dancing in the Street, Sister Act and many more!
SIMON LIPKIN– West End Productions of Avenue Q, Rock of Ages , Guys and Dolls along side Rebel Wilson, Spamalot, Assassins, Disaster Musical as well as many more!
DEAN CHISNALL– Shrek in Shrek- The Musical ( Theatre Royal Drury Lane West End & UK and Ireland Tour), Love Never Dies (Adelphi), La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse), Never Forget (Savoy and tour), Evita (Adelphi), The Women in White (Palace)
JOE SLEIGHT– Wicked (WestEnd) ‘Cover Boq’, Midsummer Nights Dream (Middle Temple Hall London) ‘Puck’, Blood Brothers (UK Tour) ‘Perkins’ & ‘Peter Pan in Peter Pan at the Wycombe Swan’
JENNA LEE JAMES– Scaramouche, Meatloaf and KillerQueen in ‘We Will Rock You’, of whom she is the ONLY person in world to have played all 3 female leads. Narrator in ‘Joseph’, Mary in ‘Tonight’s The Night’ & Alternate Donna in ‘Mamma Mia’
PAUL WILKINS– Marius in Les Miserables (West End, Asia, Manila, Singapore & Dubai)
MICHELLE PENTECOST– Grace Farrell – Annie, Vava – Paraside Moscow, Elphaba – Wicked, & Eva Peron – Evita
NANCY HILL– Grease (West End), Tracy in Hairspray, Sweeney Todd (ENO) with Emma Thompson
LAURA HARRISON– Lucille Frank in the Hope Mill Theatres production of ‘Parade’, Donna Marie/Miss Jones Cover Mrs Lyons in ‘Blood Brothers’, Tiger Lily in ‘Peter Pan’, Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
JODIE BETH MEYER– Understudy for Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday, Petra in A Little Night Music, High School Musical (UK Tour), Aspects of Love (UK Tour), Pirates of Penzance, Svetlana in Chess and Eponine in Les Miserables (Channel Island tours)
MELANIE BRIGHT- We Will Rock You (UK Tour) The Who’s Tommy (English Theatre Frankfurt and European Tour) Quasimodo (King’s Head) The Gypsy ‘Acid Queen’ in Tommy (Winter Gardens) and Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre) where she understudied and played the role of Fantine. Film includes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros) and Delilah in Samson and Delilah.
DEAN KILFORD– Perkins and Understudy Eddie – Blood Brothers (UK Tour), Dandini/Buttons- Cinderella, Dick Whittington- Dick Whittington, Sunday Night at the Palladium & is the current host and commentator for The Non League Show!
All images used with permission from Nathan’s family.