Jon Bon Jovi: top of the bill
Royal Variety Performance
By Spencer Leigh
As part of the celebrations of Liverpool's 800th anniversary, the Royal Variety Performance took place at Liverpool's Empire theatre. Spencer Leigh schmoozed with the celebs and saw the show.
When you see a Royal Variety Performance on television, you notice how smoothly one act goes into another, but you suspect that the real thing is less well coordinated and there will be long pauses as the audience waits for the next set-up. I am happy to report that there is none of that: while the hosts (Phillip Schofield and Kate Thornton) make brief announcements in front of a curtain, the old performers leave, the new ones arrive and the scenery changes completely. I am glad that Her Majesty shakes hands with the backstage staff at the show as they do outstanding work, and maybe the producer, Glen Middleham, is the real star of the show.
Joan Rivers made a big splash.
It was appropriate to have the Royal Variety Performance in Liverpool to celebrate the city’s 800th anniversary and although the public has criticised the lack of local talent on the bill, it still had a Liverpool flavour. It opened with Seal, together with acrobats, aerial dancers, stilt walkers and the local choir, Sense Of Sound, singing ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ in a spectacular setting which out-cirqued ‘Cirque Du Soleil’. The show closed with Jon Bon Jovi’s impassioned ‘Let It Be’. In between, we got Jimmy Tarbuck with many local references. “Northern Rock and Virgin,” he commented, “sounds like a night out at the Cavern.” Russell Brand mentioned that he had once been unemployed for a long time, “No, I am not just saying that to appeal to the people of Liverpool.”
The judging panel from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ introduced the winning act, opera singer Paul Potts: this time last year, he was selling mobile phones and now he has sold two million albums. Back by a full orchestra and a huge choir, he sang with great assurance, perhaps knowing that he was performing one of the greatest arias ever written, ‘Nessun Dorma’. There was more from the classics with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the 25-year-old pianist from China, Lang Lang and the company of the English National Ballet. The famed ballerina from the Royal Ballet, Darcey Bussell, has joined the opera star Katherine Jenkins for a touring celebration of song and dance, ‘Viva La Diva’ and their contribution included Katherine’s operatic take on Doris Day’s ‘Secret Love’. The male quartet, Teatro, performed ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from ‘Les Misérables’, while Michael Ball, who is normally associated with such songs, was in drag for an extract from the West End musical, ‘Hairspray’.
Chart music was well represented, but judging by the introductions, I got the feeling that, although they were very happy to perform on this charity show, they also wanted to sell albums in the run-up to Christmas. James Blunt would have made more impact with his big single, and Seal (with his second song), Enrique Iglesias and David Jordan were all good but not great.
Bon Jovi was the first American group to top the bill at a Royal Variety Performance and they performed ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Lost Highway’. The new look, brown-haired Jon Bon Jovi got the screams of the night – surprising in view of the age of the audience – but although he maintains he’s his own man (‘Like Frankie singing My Way’, he says in ‘It’s My Life’), I do feel that he owes a little too much to another New Jersey boy, Bruce Springsteen.
Amongst the comedians, Joan Rivers fared exceptionally well, despite, or perhaps because of, being the first person to use a four letter word on a Royal show. Although she pretended it was an accident, she offered her neck for execution and said that when she bent down like that, she looked like a table. Al Murray, struggling with laryngitis, had the audience singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’, which he said was about British resolve. With Max Wall legs and high heels, Russell Brand was much funnier than I expected: when he was unemployed, he would watch morning TV and was insulted that there should be a programme called ‘Dogs With Jobs’. Like many performers on past shows (including John Lennon in 1963), he made great play of the fact that he was performing for the Royal Family and said that he was apprehensive about standing in the line-up. “I’m next to James Blunt: he can talk about the army and horses and I can only talk about being Shagger of the Year.’
On a Royal Variety Performance, you see acts that you never see elsewhere and the 2007 show included the balancing skills of Dany Daniel and the brilliantly clever shadow puppetry of Raymond Crowe. He opened with the words, ‘Hello, I’m a mime, oops!’ Instead of a ventriloquist, we had Howard Read with Big Howard Little Howard in which he conversed with his animated creation. This demanded split second timing which had to include the audience’s reactions and he pulled it off perfectly.
The fact that the city had staged this event so well augers well for 2008 and hopefully the débâcle of the Mathew Street Festival is behind us.
last updated: 04/12/07