Review: Kerry Ellis, Brian May, Anthems The Concert, Royal Albert Hall, May 1.
Suffolk-born songstress Kerry Ellis and Queen guitarist Brian May had a packed Royal Albert Hall up on its feet, cheering wildly following a highly successful show, which fused contemporary musical theatre together with good, old fashioned rock’n’roll.
The pair, who released their debut album Anthems at the end of last year, created a truly epic musical landscape against which to showcase their work together. Backed by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra, the West End Chorus and their own Anthems band, featuring Rufus Taylor (son of Roger) on drums, Kerry and Brian created a symphony of sound which enveloped this glorious venue and had the sell-out crowd yelling for more.
Dangerland, the opening track on the album, characterised with a distinctive Brian May guitar-riff, provided a dramatic opening with Kerry emerging in a silver showgirl outfit from among a group of cloak-clad dancers.
Earlier in the evening Brian had explained that the concert was the culmination of a ten year project which meshed the lyricism of musical theatre with the raw power and emotion of rock’n’roll. He pointed out that when he was aboy there was rock music in one camp and genteel musical theatre in another but over the years through shows such as Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Queen’s own We Will Rock You, the gap had narrowed. Now he said, he and Kerry wanted to close the circle and fully integrate the two musical forms.
If Kerry’s voice shone in the theatre, it exploded on the concert stage. Her performance of the Queen classic Someone To Love, with the West End Chorus, was quite simply majestic. Her breath-control and the power of her voice had the entire auditorium whooping with delight and Brian, looking on, giving her a smiling, double-thumbs up.
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She also delivered an emotional rendition of her stand-out number from We Will Rock You No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young) which Brian explained was written for Freddie Mercury after his death but neither he nor Roger Taylor found that it suited their voices.
Although Kerry took centre-stage it wasn’t just about her. Brian was obviously the architect of the evening and he delivered a spell-binding instrumental solo which combined various Queen elements (Brighton Rock) along with a smattering of solo success (Lost Horizon).
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He also reinstituted the audience sing-along Love of My Life which he described as a favourite moment in the show for Freddie and he saw no reason to break with tradition. This was swiftly followed by a new acoustic song with Kerry I Loved A Butterfly from Anthems.
It was a treat to hear the entire album from beginning to end including the Queen classic Save Me performed with a full orchestra, a slightly reworked version of Diamonds Are Forever and the Wicked classic I’m Not That Girl – while the iconic Defying Gravity made for a triumphant encore.
Dan Gillespie, from The Feeling, guested on an infectiously bouncy version of the band’s hit I Love It When You Call. The fun-nature of the song encouraged Brian to re-stage the ending of the song so Gillespie could deliver a Pete Townsend-style windmill finish.
The huge Albert Hall stage had so many people on it at one point, including dancers from the Laine Theatre Arts school, where Kerry trained, that it looked as if there would be no room for anyone to move.
Kerry’s friend, American theatre-star Adam Pascal opened the first half of the show performing songs from Songs For A New World, Spring Awakening and Rent, classical string quartet Escala delivered a trio of numbers including Live and Let Die while the West End Chorus informed the crowd that Love Changes Everything and The Show Must Go On.
It was a highly ambitious and brilliantly realised show. It was delivered with consummate skill and polish and as the crowd roared its approval it was clear that Kerry was quite taken aback with the enthusiastic response.
Standing off to the side, with his famous Red Special, slung over his shoulder, Brian May beamed his approval.
It was clearly a wicked evening and yes, they did rock us.