By Liam Shand Egan
Willoughy Symphony Orchestra continued their Spring Season with a very eye-catching event on Saturday: ‘A Tribute to George Michael’. I have been to various tribute events in my time (mostly dragged to them by my grandmother) and I can safely say this was a strong contender for the top spot. Overall, the night was a success and would encourage me to see more works like it in the future.
The arrangements by conductor George Ellis were beautiful and definitely added something original to Michael’s works while showing an immense respect. A particular highlight for me was ‘Monkey’ where the original songs ‘remixed’ quality was translated beautifully to a string section that seemed well-equipped for the task. Ellis was also having a lot of fun during the performance and would play off both the crowd and the guest singer, Mig Ayesa. A lot of work was put into this show with over 2 hours of songs performed on the night, including encores. The songs chosen were not only the hits but more deep cuts like Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ which I didn’t know Michael performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The order of the songs seemed a bit off as ‘Freedom!’, a triumphant recount of the artist’s life in Wham! and his new career as a solo artist, seemed like a slam dunk for the closing number but wasn’t leaving me a bit incomplete by the night.
Guest vocalist Mig Ayesa is extremely talented. During 90% of the show, he shone and exuded star quality that showed me exactly why he was chosen for this show. However, it must be said that the opening of the show was very rocky. His breath work seemed off and his extremely exuberant dancing meant that his microphone had moved too far away from his mouth before he had finished a line. Given that by the time the next piece had begun he was settled, I would ordinarily move on… but the opening number was Faith and the choppy opening left me a bit worried for the rest of the show. There appeared to be a lack of comfort with the song that disappeared by the time the ballads started going. I have to be clear that Mig crushed the ballads, doing a brilliant tribute to the bulk of Michael’s work but it might have been easier to start on a slower song because Faith felt like a missed opportunity. Ultimately, I was left a bit confused as to the real focus of the show was: paying tribute to George Michael himself or paying tribute to his music. The result wasn’t a wholistic representation as the sound mix on the night would drown out the vocals. While a lot of work went into the arrangements and it was an orchestral performance, it did seem a waste that the music and vocals were fighting to be heard during the pop songs. Once again, the ballads were constructed well and thoroughly enjoyable for everyone but George Michael’s faster songs were not as well loved. One of my best friends returned home to the UK on Monday and after they heard I was going to see this show, I got a late night call from his wife, cursing me out that she couldn’t go with me. George Michael has inspired so many people and well done to the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra for creating this impressive performance. While I cannot say this will suit die hard fans, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and had me humming on the way out the door.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.