Even though Harold Arlen may not be a household name, you have definitely heard his music. If we gauge musical success through sheer number of compositions, or the longevity of songs, Arlen must be considered one of the greatest composers ever.
His glorious songs are revitalised in Johanna Allen’s The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen and, as the performance progresses from one toe-tapping number to another, you realise just how much of our collective musical history is based on the works of this one great man.
The show loosely follows the story of Harold Arlen’s life, from the early days in the Cotton Club, to studio success in Hollywood. The show starts with high intensity, and this intensity remains high for the duration. Johanna Allen was musically superb, putting her own twist on ‘That Old Black Magic’ and ‘Paper Moon’. The soprano understandably struggled with the low notes of Stormy Weather but made up for that (with interest!) in the beautiful rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ – I had goosebumps, others had tears, and everyone stood in a rousing ovation!
Counterpointing the wonderful musical journey is Arlen’s personal life. Throughout the show Johanna Allen portrays several characters with varying levels of success (including Harold Arlen, his wife, and Judy Garland). Her accents are passable, but the sheer number of them creates unnecessary confusion.
The writing of the The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen must be commended. The recurring Wizard of Oz musical motifs teased the audience throughout, and the palpable anticipation for ‘Over the Rainbow’ was the show’s greatest success. Everyone knew the song was coming. We all wanted it. And Johanna Allen did not disappoint.
Micahel Tyack’s musical direction and the direction of Stuart Maunder have created a show that will engage any audience. The only way to improve the production is to lighten the intensity of the first 30 minutes with a number similar to ‘One More For the Road’ (which was perfectly performed by Allen) – hopefully a similar song can be found that will work with the narrative.
The Songs That Got Away: The Music of Harold Arlen is a wonderful musical journey, and I would encourage everyone to take it. Johanna Allen’s voice combined with catchy and familiar tunes is a recipe for success. If you’ve never heard of Harold Arlen, never fear – you will be astounded by how many Harold Arlen songs you know and love.