Novello Orchestra – Motown RnB and Soul

The Novello Orchestra returned for the final installment of the 2019-2020 concert series with ‘Heart and Soul’ a celebration of Motown, RnB and Soul.

The collection of songs crossed classics from the likes of Whitney Houston to Aretha Franklin, to more obscure RnB classics. And for those who are a fan of the genre or there to see one of their favourite musical theatre performers, the evening was full of hits of all kinds.
Shanay Holmes- all image credits Poppy Thomas

Opening the evening was Shanay Holmes- last seen in Cardiff for the 20th Anniversary Rent tour (a nerd fact regular readers know I appreciated!). As a younger performer, it was fantastic to see her get the spotlight- and she dazzled with two brilliant Whitney Houston performances- the second of which ‘I Will Always Love You’ bringing the audience to their feet.
Second Diva of the night (with Diva as the highest of compliments) was Marisha Wallace, who is embarking on her first tour around the UK in the next weeks. Wallace who came over here for a starring role in Dreamgirls raised the roof of the WMC with her rendition of ‘I am Telling You’ as Mahoney commented afterward ‘how do you follow that?’ in Marisha’s case with an array of fabulous dresses- a different one for each song- and continuing to raise the roof with everything from Tina Turner to Aretha Franklin. Marisha can only be described as a force of nature as this image sums up: 

But she is also the ultimate Diva with a capital D whose voice is a force to be reckoned with. Anyone who hasn\’t had the chance to see her perform should grab the chance- either on her solo tour or in the upcoming London production of Hairspray. Marisha also had a connection with one of the male performers of the night- a shared show in the form of Aladdin. And while Motown and RnB might be famous for its Diva the men also shone with Trevor Dion Nicholas and Dom Hartley-Harris showing the audience what the men of this genre can do in style. 

There were a number of on-stage connections with the singers- all having crossed paths in one way or another before- even fleetingly. But perhaps the best was having  ‘two Presidents’ on stage as well with both Trevor Dion Nicholas and Dom Hartley-Harris who have played George Washington in Hamilton sharing a stage together for the first time. 

Trevor Dion Nicholas brought us right up to date with some John Legend as well as some classic Marvin Gaye from Hartley Harris in a duet with Shanay Holmes. Showing the range that the Novello Orchestra always brings to these concerts with a taste of something for everyone. One of the other delights is getting to know these performers away from their stage roles, and each of last night\’s brought a huge dose of personality both to their performances, and a lovely rapport with the audiences between songs. While a huge concert- the WMC was sold out once again- the easy-going format of the evening and singer\’s engagement with the audience always makes it feel like a more intimate event despite the scale. Another highlight- aside from Mahoney\’s usual witty introductions, was the conductor attempting- emphasis on the attempt- to teach the audience to clap on 2 and 4 of the bar…it did not exactly go to plan but the audience loved the chance to join in (some more successfully than others) 

Mahoney has used each of these concerts to showcase local amateur talent. And for this concert, rather than the usual choir accompanying the orchestra, were dancers from Debbie Chapman’s dance school. Performing alongside three orchestral numbers, 90 of the young dancers performed on the Donald Gordan Stage (and a number of them in the stalls as well, such were their numbers!). They performed all three numbers with such enthusiasm and it was clear what the opportunity to perform in front of a huge crowd meant to the young people involved. And it’s a fantastic part of the collaboration between the Novello, WMC and the local artistic community that they’re given the chance to be involved.

The Novello Orchestra is an important part of the musical lifeblood of wales- and indeed the UK now. It shouldn’t be underestimated how novel it is to be able to see leading West End and Broadway performers in concert outside London. Concerts with performers have long been part of the infrastructure of Broadway, and the West End, but it’s so rare to get to see so many brilliant performers in one space. And to have the opportunity to hear such a variety of music played but an orchestra of the Novello’s calibre is both a treat- and important for Wales and it’s musical landscape. So it’s a round of applause for David Mahoney and a successful season of concerts- and a looking forward to the next.

For more information The Novello Orchestra

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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