Music review: Bright Lights and Big Dreams

How can you go wrong with a musical? The best ones linger in our minds for years and a song re-heard can trigger an immediate urge to sing along. State Opera knows this well and offered a choice program in a gala with great voices to do exactly that.

Nov 14, 2022, updated Nov 14, 2022
Antoinette Halloran and Ben Mingay perform in State Opera South Australia's celebration of musicals, 'Bright Lights and Big Dreams'. Photo: Frankie The Creative

Antoinette Halloran and Ben Mingay perform in State Opera South Australia's celebration of musicals, 'Bright Lights and Big Dreams'. Photo: Frankie The Creative

Featuring guests Ben Mingay (bass/baritone) and Antoinette Halloran (soprano), along with a host of local singers, Bright Lights and Big Dreams was directed by State Opera artistic director Stuart Maunder. Subtitled “Great Moments in Musical Theatre”, it certainly drew on celebrated works familiar to the audience and the opening number, “Comedy Tonight” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), indicated it meant to produce variety. All performances had the backing of the full Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Anthony Hunt.

Musicals are peculiar in a way. It would be unnatural for characters in real life to make sudden switches between dialogue and song to convey their feelings. However, if words ­– spoken or sung – and music are in accord in musical theatre, audiences are happy to take them as an entertaining whole. Disbelief is suspended.

Individual songs can obviously create powerful emotional responses. Even if encountered as stand-alone excerpts, show tunes still conjure up parts of the broader narrative and the characters’ journeys. It is powerful stuff, as State Opera proved with works by Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim. The theme of aspiration was at the heart of many of the tunes, including within show business, hence this concert’s title.

State Opera’s Bright Lights and Big Dreams. Photo: Frankie The Creative

Most of the cast joined to present finely matched voices in “Ohio” (from Wonderful Town), and there was a touching “If I Loved You” duet (Carousel) from Mingay and Desiree Frahn that even included falling blossoms. “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” (South Pacific) might seem dated now but it was a robust reminder of previous times, including the requisite hammed-up acting from the original.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was well represented, with three tunes, and Halloran got to reprise her role as Mrs Lovett in delightful manner. As expected, there were favourites like “Tonight” (West Side Story) and “Some Enchanted Evening” (South Pacific), plus the whole company delivered an exuberant version of “Oklahoma” (Oklahoma!).

Mingay and Halloran were joined by a host of local singers. Photo: Frankie The Creative

Adelaide soprano Jessica Dean was always a particular pleasure to hear, and there were soaring moments in which all the singers assembled to contribute well to songs. That said, the versatility of headliners Mingay and Halloran was a key element in the audience so obviously relishing Bright Lights and Big Dreams.

An enduring song can produce not just instant recognition, but also real tingles of pleasure. One of these was “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel – a fine way to end a very satisfying show for aficionados of musical theatre.

State Opera presented Bright Lights and Big Dreams at Her Majesty’s Theatre on November 11 and 12.

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