Disney in Trinity 2: The Bells of Notre Dame

KIT FOWLER was taken on a magic carpet ride by the university pop orchestra’s night of Disney hits.

Cambridge university pops orchestra chapel Disney Emma Powell freddie tapner Simon Nathan trinty

Trinity College Chapel, 8.30 PM, 26th April, from £3-6.

As Simon Nathan pranced onto the podium and raised the baton, resplendent in a Mickey Mouse costume, I couldn’t escape a sense of déjà vu. This was the second time that the now well-established Cambridge University Pops Orchestra was performing a selection of everyone’s favourite Disney hits in the cavernous Trinity chapel, and the question on everyone’s mind was whether it could both live up to the hype (tickets sold out in under 24 hours), and avoid the sense of churned out repetition found in straight-to-dvd Disney sequels.

A collective shiver of excitement shot through the audience as the 80+ ensemble took up places and the opening number from The Hunchback of Notre Dame commenced. As Sam Oladeinde showcased his spectacular range, while miming hand puppets and drawing us into the power of Disney’s music, we were all left speechless by the raw energy streaming from the performers. From the opening it was clear that this was going to be more than a concert; it had the versatility of acting found in the Marlowe showcase, comic moments as funny as the Footlights, and was as much of a spectacle as a West End show – ‘pure theatre, darling’, as some thespy type remarked behind me.

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The soloists were, without exception, sensational. Vocally there wasn’t a weak link in the chain, although there was a touch of nerves evident here and there. The most enjoyable solos were probably Jonny Hyde’s take on The Bare Necessities and Freddie Tapner’s fantastically camp Prince Ali. Hyde serenaded a teddy bear with brilliant understated comedy, lacing his song with innuendo to turn a childhood classic into something guaranteed to go down well with a few hundred students. Tapner, meanwhile, sauntered onto stage and reminded me of an unholy cross between Eric Morecambe and Graham Norton. Robin Williams himself would’ve been impressed by the level of quirkiness from both these performers.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were several numbers that didn’t need any comedy or theatre, as the sheer vocal potency was enough. Helen Charlston as Pocahontas, Paige Thompson as Ariel and Lauren Hutchinson as Elsa were especially impressive – Hutchinson in particular was a tour de force, her set of pipes swelling to fill the space with the Disney anthem for our student years, Let It Go. There was also something endearing about the double acts that graced the stage – ADC veterans Emma Powell and Henry Jenkinson took us back to simpler times with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Joey Akubeze and Rhianna Frost had the audience on their feet closing the programme with the feel-good I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.

The real heroes of the performance were not those in the spotlight, however – it was the orchestra and the choir that really bound the show together, demonstrating outstanding technical ability throughout the concert, putting up with soloists unable to see the conductor, and just obviously having a great time. Best fancy dress prize is split between the guy in the alligator onesie and the chap dressed as Merlin. During the finale the orchestra even managed mexican waves, apparently without missing a note – some of us can barely struggle through the Rugrats theme on the piano.

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The real proof that this concert surpassed the former was in its slickness, the little touches (did I spot the Macarena on stage at one point?), and how well balanced the programme was. The intensity of Mulan was juxtaposed with some light Mary Poppins, and the touching naivety of Giselle from Enchanted was followed by the ominous scaremongering of The Mob Song. There were some small glitches; a few words forgotten, the occasional scramble for the right tempo and occasional sound level difficulties. The only major hurdle that these concerts still have to clear is one of definition; with some soloists singing as in a classical concert, and some hamming it up to the max, the powers that be would do well to iron out such performing inconsistencies. This is a small niggle however, and one that may be the result of pulling together some performers used to musicals and some used to choral works.

All in all, the concert was a triumph; a stunning showcase of a range of talent in Cambridge, and precisely the sort of treat we all need in exam term.