Saturday 16 December 2017

musical

ed power

colm wilkinson

bord gais energy theatre

There are two Colm Wilkinsons: the grandiloquent tenor synonymous with Les Miserables and its brooding protagonist Jean Valjean, and a guitar-toting showman who enjoys nothing more than whooping it up and setting free his inner Johnny Cash.

He works hard at bringing the disparate personas together, but it isn't always a marriage of equals. Though his private passions are very obviously in the direction of free-wheeling country music and zesty strumming, it is as a strait-laced Broadway emoter that Wilkinson is feted and such shackles are not easily cast off.

Trim and dapper, his hair slicked into a silver quiff, he belts out standards such as 'Some Enchanted Evening' (from South Pacific) and 'Somewhere' (from West Side Story) with effortless poise, that famous voice swooping and sonorous. However, his instincts often lie elsewhere – sometimes, it appears, in the exact opposite direction of those of his audience.

Thus his lush, languid interpretation of Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through the Night' is met with bafflement while a tearful tilt at the Beatles' 'She's Leaving Home' fails to prompt the mass singalong he may have hoped for.

Especially puzzling are cameos from Belfast jazz vocalist Siobhán Pettit and Cork singer Áine Whelan. With Wilkinson in the wings, Petit sings 'All That Jazz', from Chicago, followed by Whelan and Abba's 'The Winner Takes It All'. These are decent renditions but you wonder what they are doing in the middle of a Colm Wilkinson concert.

The biggest misstep, arguably, is a take on the Irish-American dirge 'Danny Boy', which Wilkinson renders more sappy than usual. The Drimnagh native undoubtedly has great success with the song outside Ireland, where it is incorrectly regarded as a Celtic anthem. Here, it falls on indifferent ears, though a rousing version of 'Whiskey in the Jar' is better received, prompting the first singalong of the evening.

So far, so karaoke. As a Broadway bard, however, Wilkinson is transcendent. The encore dusting down of 'Bring Him Home' – the Les Mis standout written especially with him in mind – causes a mass outbreak of goosebumps. It truly is a stunning reading, somehow thunderous and nuanced in the same heartbeat. Even better, it may be argued, is a reprising of 'This Is the Moment' from Jekyll and Hyde, which he imbues with precisely the correct measure of melodramatic strain.

Wilkinson is less sure footed as a raconteur. But as an old-school showstopper, he remains peerless.

Irish Independent

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