Broadway in Trinity

KIT FOWLER is once more blown away by the sheer scale of CUPO’s latest offering.

bethany partridge Broadway cupo jonathan hyde kit fowler trinity college chapel

Trinity College Chapel, Friday 8th November, 8.30pm, £5/3


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The moment the famous octave strains from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ bellowed out from Trinity Chapel’s huge organ, it was clear that the ambitious concept of staging a Broadway revue with an orchestra of over 60, a chorus of 16 and a formidable line up of soloists would be, at the very least, bombastic in scale. For the next hour and a half the audience was treated to a steady stream of classics from the musicals, ranging from the hilarious to the heart-felt. CUPO, the University Pops Orchestra, have cut their teeth on Disney numbers and Star Wars in the past couple of years and there was never really a question as to whether this would be a night to remember; my fears were only whether Simon Nathan, conducting, would be able to master the substantial forces of orchestra and singers.

After an overture mashing Phantom, Les Mis, Avenue Q and Cabaret (Henry Jenkinson presenting a repulsively flirtatious side as Emcee), Sam Oladeinde serenaded us with a slightly camp rendition of ‘Too Darn Hot’ – Oladeinde’s voice would not sound out of place at the Proms, and throughout the show he shone, crowning the finale of ‘One Day More’ as Valjean. Emma Powell proved a shoe-in for Julie Andrews vocally, nailing the breathy cut-glass accent with ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ – indeed, the chorus and the orchestra could hardly restrain their glee while bobbing along to The Sound of Music. Hetty Gullifer, meanwhile, had the sultry, smoky tones needed for Chicago down to a tee, oozing sex appeal and charisma. The final female soloist, Bethany Partridge, proved both versatile and pitch perfect, moving from Joanna to Cosette without any fluster. Jonathan Hyde gave a more classical performance with ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, a reminder that older musicals still have a place on Broadway – Rodgers and Hammerstein fitting a large orchestra more naturally than numbers from modern musicals.

If there was criticism to be made of the night it would probably fall on some of the ensemble numbers – ‘Kiss Me’ from Sweeney Todd had some glorious moments as the orchestra and vocalists swelled together, but keeping it together was an almost impossible task. With the soloists unable to see the conductor and vice versa it was all Simon Nathan could do to simply get through the ferociously tricky Sondheim score. A couple of wrong entries didn’t help the situation, and I couldn’t help feeling that as Sondheim is renowned for its complexity it was always going to be dangerous game picking it; still, Sondheim is probably the greatest living monument of musical theatre and some tribute was no doubt due. Similarly ‘One Day More’ lacked the real show-stopper feel that it is capable of giving; the multitudinous elements competing rather than harmonising together.

The real heroes of the night were the orchestra; West Side Story and Wicked both showcased their raw talent, and plenty of people in the audience were just grinning like maniacs at the sheer spectacle of these well known hits on such a massive scale. The brass and percussion was sensational, and credit to the cellos who gamely all turned up dressed as Elphaba from Wicked.

All in all this was a stunning showcase of musical talent from across Cambridge; it is always possible to nitpick with shows featuring so many performers but the ‘wow’ factor was definitely present. I for one look forward to CUPO’s next outing.