John and his orchestra don’t always perform semi-staged musicals badly at the BBC Proms—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (although The Guardian wrote, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn‘s movie arrangements—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”); and their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was big, sexy and playful, as it was meant to be. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!
The entire production is available to watch here.
Before I go into a couple of my bonny’s more recent musical missteps that have done their part to annoy the hell out of me, I think it’s only fair to share the best clips available of John Wilson’s own 24-year-old orchestra—cannily named, as I have mentioned, The John Wilson Orchestra—which, out of over 200(!) on YouTube in nine years, come down to about three, maybe four of those clips spread out through 2009-2017.
So in no particular order: This is from their 2012 show Broadway Sounds at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats 5200, with standing room for 1300 on the ground floor (tickets for which go for only 6L and for which people camp out overnight at the box office like it was freakin Winterland). This is pertinent, because it seems like the JWO only does its best work when it can blast the roof off a barn.
I had the old Ben Bagley recording and the 1983 Broadway revival recording (conducted by John Mauceri) of the Rodgers & Hart show On Your Toes—which of course includes the climactic ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”—but both producer Bagley as well as musical theater preservationist Mauceri put on disc the 1936 Robert Russell Bennett orchestration rather than the 1954 one by Don Walker. Our John, being John (I’m starting to get into his “ear”), chose the Walker score to play in the Royal Albert, and for once he was entirely right.
John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy at 4:00. This is the moment I fell in love with him, that lovely luscious moment where I realized Baby, have I got your number…
The indication “burlesque strip style” was actually written on the music right around this point. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms program Broadway Sounds, 2012.