Based on a Nobel Prize-winning novel by Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago tells an epic and ultimately heartbreaking tale of love and duty, which descends into chaos as the Russian Empire begins to fall. The musical, with music by Lucy Simon, and lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, has been produced around the world, but had yet to make it to the UK until Lambert Jackson Productions announced a high profile concert, featuring an impressively starry cast.
The concert provided an excellent opportunity for UK audiences to experience a rarely performed gem, presented at its best, with an extraordinarily talented cohort of performers and musicians highlighting the strength of the score.
In the title role, Ramin Karimloo utilised the easy stage presence and impressive vocals which have earned him international acclaim to great effect, giving the doctor turned poet a quiet and compelling intensity.
Admittedly, the plot’s focus on Zhivago’s extramarital romantic relations with the musical’s guarded heroine Lara make him a difficult character to love at times (perhaps in a fully staged production the doctor’s guilt and conflict would be elaborated on further?), but ultimately he’s the sort of epic romantic hero that audiences have come to expect from musicals with the operatic tone and scale of Doctor Zhivago.
Another notable performance came from Charlie McCullagh, whose commanding presence made his Pasha, an angry student revolutionary and rival to Zhivago in pursuit of Lara’s affections, a worthy adversary.
However, despite the musical’s title, the story unquestionably belonged to Lara. Radiant and assured, Celinde Schoenmaker’s performance transcended the concert format, bringing the fiery and resilient heroine to life. Karimloo and Schoenmaker’s performance of the haunting duet Now, in which they quietly admit their love, was a musical highlight which exemplified the lush and emotive musical heart of Doctor Zhivago.
Admittedly, without the benefit of familiarity with the musical, the exclusion of the majority of Michael Weller’s book did make the concert feel slightly choppy and detached at times, despite the helpful narration offered by presenter Lucy Drever. However, the music provided plenty of atmosphere, and helped to adequately translate the emotions of certain scenes to the audience.
Concerts such as this provide an excellent opportunity to introduce lesser known musicals to UK audiences, and if the standing ovation at the end of the performance is anything to go by, they’re exactly what musical theatre fanatics desire.