A Night at the Oscars
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed – 16th February 2018
“a heartfelt tribute, created and delivered, by a team who believe in the power of music to enrich our lives”
With the ninetieth Academy Awards fast approaching, Aria Entertainment is laying on a well-timed celebration of the annual event through song, dance and stories. Charting the ‘Best Song Award’, it is the story of the Golden Age of Hollywood, part celebration and part eulogy: a kind of memento mori to a lost world.
There is so much to cover in one evening that it seems to be an impossible task to undertake, but writer Chris Burgess has a keen sense of balancing the informative with the entertaining. This is not just a shuffle through the pages of the American Songbook, it is also a rapid-fire chronicle (albeit sometimes perfunctory) of America’s social history in the mid twentieth century, and how Hollywood has always mirrored society, rather than vice versa. But let’s not get too bookish; “A Night at the Oscars” is billed as a musical revue, and it is foremost a glorious reminder of the sheer wealth of the songs, composers and craftsmanship that existed in that bygone era.
The four singers have total control over the material. Kieran Brown, Steven Dalziel, Natalie Green and Laura Sillett all effortlessly span the octaves and emotions needed to tackle the likes of Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern, Bernstein (to name just a few) at their best. They each shine individually, but when they are in unison the harmonies are spot on. Accompanied by Musical Director Ben Fergusson on piano, Will Henderson on double bass and Ben Burton on percussion, the combined effect is dynamic and passionate.
There are many highlights, most notably “The Man That Got Away” that closes the first act, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” which heartbreakingly reminds us of Gershwin’s untimely, early death. Other moments of high emotion, such as the tribute to Charlie Chaplin, are offset by moments of high comedy injected into the well-documented Bette Davis and Joan Crawford feud.
The second act is slightly more fragmentary and we feel that the cast are in a bit of a hurry to reach the end. But in fairness this reflects the changing face of Hollywood. As Hollywood battles with the changing politics and fashions it also has to compete with the legislation that strips if of its monopoly and power. And of course with the birth of television. It is a whole new world, and historically the music suffers too. It is perfectly fitting that the evening’s show ends at 1973. The poignancy of “The Way We Were” rings through the auditorium: an anthem to the sad fact that the traditional ‘Oscars’ song is no more. What happens next is another show entirely.
But for now “A Night at the Oscars” should be enjoyed for what it is. Fittingly it ends on a rousing chorus of “That’s Entertainment”. Entertainment it unquestionably is. It is also a heartfelt tribute, created and delivered, by a team who believe in the power of music to enrich our lives.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Tim Hall
A Night at the Oscars
Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 4th March