On Friday night, St David’s Hall in Cardiff became the 41st venue of Collabro’s Road to the Royal Albert Hall tour; the quartet’s largest tour to date. In a city and country that knows a thing or two about male-voice groups, the 2014 Britain’s Got Talent winners entertained a lively crowd with a set list that read like a musical theatre greatest hits album.
With the main event not kicking off until 08:30, the crowd of expectant ‘Collaborators’ were first entertained by Georgia and the Vintage Youth. The trio’s sound had an undefinable element to it, with aspects of reggae, soul, and jazz all discernible within the seven-song set list, which included an ode to the saxophone of band member, ‘Crazy Marco’ – named for his crazy hair, not anything sinister. The band’s meshing of styles made for a really enjoyable performance, with the crowd favourite undoubtedly being a cover of The Sound of Music’s, Favourite Things, as one might expect in a room full of musical theatre fans.
As the final saxophone beats finally faded away, an overture of iconic musicals began to play, like an appetiser before the feast that we were about to gorge ourselves on. Collabro took to the stage to a chorus of cheers, and immediately dived into a rendition of Grease is the Word. This is what the crowd was here to see, a point accentuated by Jamie’s quip that “if you don’t like musical theatre, then this isn’t gonna be for you”. True to his word, the first act breezed by in a haze of iconic anthems from Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and West Side Story, to name a few. Witnessing the timing and harmonisation of those vocals up close and personal is almost mesmerising, and a definite reminder of why the nation fell in love with Collabro in the first place. In an evening of highlights, the first act had its fair share, from an impromptu cover of the Welsh National Anthem by Tom, to a guest appearance by Kerry Ellis – whose sheer power of vocal was unlike anything this writer had heard before. However, the undisputed crowd favourite of the opening act was a Jersey Boys medley that had large swathes of the crowd out of their seats and dancing, after some minor coercion by Matt.
After a brief intermission – or as they like to call them: ice cream breaks – Collabro returned for act two with some backup in the form of a choir from Swansea’s own, Mark Jermin Stage School. It was a thoughtful and endearing touch from the Collabro boys, and is something that is sure to live long in the memory of those children – particularly a lucky girl named Seren, who was chosen to perform a few solo verses, to her own and the crowd’s delight. From then on in it was much of the same, with the boys rolling out hit after hit, including several from the most recent musical sensation: The Greatest Showman. Amongst these renditions of Hugh Jackman’s blockbuster was a reappearance of Kerry Ellis for a collaborative cover of A Million Dreams, which drove the audience out of their seats for a well-deserved standing ovation.
Whilst the music unequivocally took centre stage, there was much more to the show than just the songs. There were plenty of stories and jokes from the boys, including a surprisingly good impression of Frank Spencer by Matt, and a dance-off that elicited shrieks of glee from several members of the audience. There is a palpable sense of connection between Collabro and their fans, something that was highlighted by a poignant monologue by Michael prior to the performance of their fan-inspired original song, Lighthouse.
As the show began to draw to an end, the boys returned to their roots with a performance of Stars from Les Miserables, the song that they auditioned, and eventually won Britain’s Got Talent with. Whereas many acts who come through reality television seem to want to distance themselves afterwards, Collabro made frequent mentions of BGT, and the platform and opportunity that it provided them with. This seemed an apt ending, highlighting the journey they had been through, and bringing things full circle. However, the boys had other ides; returning moments later bedecked in gold sequinned jackets to perform an encore of pop songs that the crowd lapped up.
As the crowds began to depart, I thought back to Jamie’s opening remark about not enjoying the show unless you were a fan of musical theatre. Whilst almost every song performed was from a musical, and the majority of the people in attendance were clearly big musical theatre fans, I would still have to disagree with Jamie. I went to the show with minimal knowledge of musical theatre, but had a fantastic evening. The skill and timing that goes into the vocals and performances is something that anyone can enjoy. Who knows, maybe I’m a ‘Collaborator’ now.
Words by Rhys Fisher