Reviewer: Greg Stewart
Lambert Jackson Productions again return to Cadogan Hall with one of their now legendary musical concerts. This time it’s Doctor Zhivago, and while many will be familiar with the film, Michael Weller and Lucy Simon’s musical version is based more closely on Boris Paternak’s original novel. The musical has already been staged briefly on Broadway, in Australia and in other international locations, but this is the first time it’s been seen, or heard in the UK.
Doctor Zhivago follows the usual set up for these kinds of concerts, with the cast performing the musical numbers accompanied by an orchestra under the direction of Adam Hoskins. There is plenty of dialogue between the cast too, but where sets and staging cannot provide the right context, narrator, Lucy Drever steps in.
Director Jordan Murphy, however, ensures that it feels like you are watching as close to a full musical as possible, with enough movement to keep the whole thing feeling fresh and dynamic. This musical has a particularly complex narrative, one which spans many decades across revolutionary Russia, the concert staging does make this a little difficult to follow, and you find yourself just having to accept that things have happened even if you can’t follow exactly why.
With five main characters in the mix; three men who love one woman, and two women who love one man, and all with a backdrop of the warring white and red armies, the scene is set for an epic tale of love and heartache. More than once love is sacrificed for the good of the other person, and plotting and scheming culminate in tragic consequences.
Lucy Simon’s music, with lyrics from Michael Korie and Amy Powers, is unbelievably breath-taking. It advances on you with a searing urgency, while fighting back a desire to overpower the whole production. Most of the songs are these rousing anthems that always seem to take you by surprise as they reach crescendo, while others are more discreet and tantalisingly beautiful.
Such an incredible score works wonders in the hands of the talented leads assembled for this concert. Celinde Schoenmaker sings beautifully as Lara, especially in one particularly haunting ballad ‘On The Edge of Time’. Kelly Mathieson makes for the perfect Tonia, and with ‘It Comes As No Surprise’, a duet with Schoenmaker, we see her at the peak of her performance.
Charlie McCullagh demonstrates outstanding vocal talent as Pasha Antipov, a character who has an uncanny knack of avoiding death. Ramin Karimloo as Yurii Zhivago creates a character that the whole audience falls in love with, during ‘Who Is She?’ and later ‘Ashes and Tears’ the audience were visibly moved by his performance. Trinity Laban Musical Theatre should also be commended for their fantastic work as the ensemble, not only acting as a choir, but with many of the young performers picking up the supporting roles.
Doctor Zhivago is superb as a musical concert, but if this UK Premiere has taught us anything, it’s that this musical deserves to be fully staged in a more permanent home (preferably with this exact cast!). It has all the excitement of Les Mis, with the romance of Moulin Rouge, and a full staging in the West End might just be revolutionary.