Judge Bill Gibron was swept away by this concert's unusual musical match-up.
Freddie would have loved it.
It's not every day you come across something as unique and engaging as the pairing of Queen guitarist Brian May and West End musical sensational Kerry Ellis. Perhaps a good USA analogy would be Eddie Van Halen teaming up with Idina Menzel for a series of intimate, acoustic/electric showcases. In this case, the British actress was pressed by the six string savant to audition for the then in production jukebox theater presentation We Will Rock You where she eventually landed the role of Meat. From then on, their collaboration grew. Previously, she had sparked as an understudy in My Fair Lady, only to go on to bigger success in revivals of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. She also stood in for the aforementioned John Travolta malapropism when Wicked hit London, eventually taking over for her. But with May she found a sonic soulmate, someone who understood her ability to deliver soaring showtunes, rock 'n' roll aggression, and gentle crooning with unfettered ease. They collaborated on several occasions, with this concert taken from a 2013 tour. From song selection to presentation, it's a true gem.
The choice of material is as eccentric and gratifying as the pairing itself. The show starts off with both performers sitting on stools, he playing an intricate introduction to the standard "I Who Have Nothing" while she prepares. After selling that song, they go into an equally engaging reading of the Kansas classic "Dust in the Wind." This is followed by "Born Free" (a cover of the '70s anthem, which the duo originally offered as part of an animal rights charity event), and just when you think Queen will be left out of the mix completely, a stirring version of "Somebody to Love" arrives. Indeed, throughout the 90 minute show, we will hear "'39," "Love of My Life," "Tie Your Mother Down" (done country western style!!!), "We Will Rock You," and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." But this isn't a mere overview of May's career. Instead, the set list provides other offerings like "The Way We Were," George Harrison's "Something," and even an original-"The Kissing Me Song." Our guitar hero switches up between acoustic and electric guitar throughout, but he never overpowers Ellis' enigmatic voice.
Both performers are pitch perfect here. Even when called upon to carry the melody, May can still deliver. His "'39" may have become an audience participation sing-along, but it's a damn fine one, and while it's odd to hear it handled that way, "Tie Your Mother Down" works as a contemporary twang track. Elsewhere, "The Kissing Me Song" is clever while Ellis is really made to work through the emotions of the standards she sings. Behind the duo is a video screen with images meant to support and complement the material, and along with the candlelight setting and the addition of a keyboardist/percussionist, argues for a successful show minus the major league sturm and drang of a typical concert. This is an intimate showcase, perfect for those nights when a quiet evening with a loved one (or individual de-stressing) is required. Granted, the live show fails to include several sensational songs from the bonus CD included in the package, but that's beside the point. A merging of Brian May and Kerry Ellis would, at first, seem antithetical to both parties' particular style. Instead, it produces some genuine magic.
As a full blown HD presentation, The Candlelight Concerts has both its good and bad points. Everything about it from a technical standpoint-the 1080i image, the direction, the terrific amount of detail-is why we love the Blu-ray format. On the other hand, the clarity is so stunning that you can see the make-up caked on Ms. Ellis' face, or the multitude of wrinkles around Mr. May's face. It may seem harsh to say, but sometimes, high definition does no one any favors. Sonically, however, everything is rock solid. From the most tender, quiet moments to the bigger, beefier rockers, everything is mixed in an amazing DTS-HD presentation that plays up the strengths of both performers. There is also a perfectly acceptable LPCM Stereo offering. As for added content, there is the aforementioned CD, as well as a bonus performance. In connect with "Born Free," the duo met up with Virginia McKenna (who was wildlife activist Joy Adamson in the film adaptation), and played one of her own compositions, "Nothing Really Has Changed" for her. It's very moving.
As is the rest of this concert. While the song selection might seem weird and the pairing perplexing, Brian May and Kerry Ellis are a perfect combination of talent and material. The Candlelight Concerts argue for the genius of whomever decided these two should work together. The results speak for themselves.
Not guilty. A fantastic showcase.
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