As orchestra in residence at The Bishopsgate Institute, The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO) has the ability to attract some of the country’s most outstanding performers to the grand venue. Their latest production is a concert version of Howard Goodall’s 1985 musical Girlfriends, a heartfelt tale of love and patriotism set within the corps of the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force, or WAAF.
LMTO, directed by Freddie Tapner, have chosen to honour the often-untold story of the women who delivered a crucial role during the Second World War, and the largely female cast certainly do them proud.
As can be the case with concert versions of musicals, some of the story and context behind each number is lost, though the quality of writing and performance largely speaks for itself. As a musical it delivers a fairly predictable story arch, but at least it does so with a good helping of heart.
The company is joined by Group Captain Victoria Gosling OBE, who has completed 21 years’ service within the Royal Air Force, as Narrator. Group Captain Gosling not only delivers her role with poise and professionalism, her presence reminds us how the women of the WAAF paved the way for women serving at all levels in the armed forces today.
Howard Goodall’s original orchestrations have been given an overhaul by Simon Nathan, resulting in a truly spectacular sounding score. The songs are, in the main gentle ballads, though many of the songs change tack part way through, resulting in a glorious myriad of musical styles which seem to dance tantalisingly on your ear drum.
Having assembled a hugely talented cast, they do not fail to deliver. Lucie Jones and Lauren Samuels take on the roles of best friends Lou and Amy, joining the WAAF when just six weeks before they had been ‘ordinary girls’, completely unaware of the horrors of war, or the task that lay ahead of them.
Natasha Barnes gives a wonderfully down to earth performance as Sally, alongside Bronté Barbé’s pragmatic Jane. Vicky Stone has the privilege of delivering perhaps the most moving number of the whole production with ‘Wake Me O Wake Me’.
Understandably outnumbered, Rob Houchen and Chris McGuigan take on the only male characters, Guy and Gareth, who serve as love interests for several of the WAAF’s. This gives them both the opportunity for some delightful duets, ‘Save My Life a Second Time’ for Houchen and Samuels is a particular highlight, while McGuigan and Barnes deliver one of the more upbeat numbers with ‘We Dance On’.
LMTO’s concert version of Girlfriends is a real delight, the dream line up of West End Stars performing alongside the skilled members of the orchestra would be enough to please any musical theatre lover, but add in Simon Nathan’s new orchestrations and this becomes a truly triumphant performance.