Although it was Colm Wilkinson’s third appearance at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in as many weeks, there was barely an empty seat to be seen in the hall. His tour for the album Broadway and Beyond: The Concert Songs has been successful in every venue it has been performed in so far, and Tuesday 2nd June was no exception.
As the seven-piece band struck up the main theme from The Phantom Of The Opera, an expectant hush descended on the crowd, until Wilkinson stepped on stage to uproarious applause. The opening number, Music Of The Night, immediately settled the audience in with a comforting Wilkinson standard, well performed, except for some slight sound balancing issues meaning the flute often got lost to the piano—an issue that reappeared at points during the show, most noticeably at the beginning of a saxophone solo, performed by the same multi-instrumentalist. Other than this slight hitch, a strong start promised a night of musical adventure.
And adventure it was, with everything from Phantom to the Bee Gees, Johnny Cash to The Beatles, Don Quixote to Chicago. The mix often worked well, though sometimes a better segue between totally contrasting styles would have been more suitable. Aine Whelan and Siobhan Kenneth provided some changes in soundscape at points, allowing Wilkinson a break. Whelan’s I Dreamed A Dream displayed here excellent vocal technique and a lovely tone, but was somewhat emotionally lacking for such a heartrending number. Kenneth was much more in line with the musical style with Who Knows, giving it socks, but losing the suspense usually associated with the song.
Both singers came back stronger in the second half, with excellent renditions of The Winner Takes It All and All That Jazz respectively; Wilkinson showed his true Irish spirit in his casual chatter with the crowd, standing out against his powerful singing, making the crowd feel at home with words like “craic”, “banter”, ‘”dja know what I mean” without them sounding forced or artificial as happens so many performers. Local references abounded, showing his happiness to be in familiar territory; the crowd loved it.
Patience began to get stretched with the constant cheesy jokes and shout-outs, many agreeing with his wife that they should be dropped from the act. Nonetheless, an obvious fondness was palpable in the audience’s tolerance of the chatting. At times Wilkinson’s penchant for breaking into tremulous, haunting falsetto became a little overpowering, and the frequent breaks for effect mid-tune took from the music, usually during either the ballads or songs from musicals. His ability to adapt his performance style to suit the genre was impressive, moving from a legs-apart power-stance to jiving during the Cash and country tunes—an area Wilkinson was surprisingly at home in, adapting his vocal tone completely to great effect.
Other than the grand finale of Bring It Home the strongest tunes of the night were undoubtedly the country Momma Don’t Allow No Music Playin’ Around Here, with excellent solos from the session musicians, and an evocative rendition of Hallelujah with Whelan and Kenneth. The unexpected variety and flair of performance meant the night was a resounding success, and Wilkinson’s playing on the generally older age-group of the audience went down a treat. Musical numbers can be hard to pull off in the absence of a set and costume, but Wilkinson’s sheer presence and strength meant it was a triumphant night. Whelan, Kenneth and the instrumentalists added greatly to the music, but of course Wilkinson remained the centre of attention.