Collabro: Road to the Royal Albert Hall — Album Review
I cannot get enough of the band Collabro. From the moment I first heard them sing “Stars” on Britain’s Got Talent, I felt plunged into a joy of theatre music delivered in an angelic way that has never been equally captured through four-part harmony. Not long after my introduction to Collabro, I had the fortune of interviewing the four young men that make up the group. I soon learned that Michael Auger, Jamie Lambert, Matthew Pagan and Thomas J. Redgrave are not only extremely talented, but generous of spirit, kind, industrious, eloquent, and dedicated to their art of making showtunes sing with a special flair. It was a honor to speak to them and if their musical hadn’t already won me over, this interview would make me a fan for life. The announcement of their new album “Road to the Royal Albert Hall” was exciting news to me, but would it live up to expectations?
“Road to the Royal Albert Hall” is now here, and I am happy to announce that expectations are mostly met, sometimes exceeded, and occasionally we are blown away. The album draws from a string of theatrical and film commercial hits, songs that are guaranteed to appeal to audiences. Each is sung with the robust verve and creamy finesse for which Collabro has made their mark. If, however, I long for a wider variety of songs from classic musical theatre and lesser known gems that would be well-served by their voices, it is a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the album.
Like a tide that eases its way in, insistent, but washing over the shore with gently hypnotic waves, Collabro eases the audience into their songs in a similar fashion. They never overwhelm, but instead lull the audience in with a gentle touch, lyrics crisp and clear, and their voices taking the time to envelop us. Once they have your attention, they begin to combine their sounds into lush harmonies that eventually crackle, burst, and morph into a tidal wave of soul-stirring sound.
On “Road to the Royal Albert Hall,” Collabro opens with the title song from the film Grease, an energetic introduction that ably bookends the album with a closing medley of songs from the musical Jersey Boys. Since all of these tunes were originally introduced by Frankie Valli, it gives the album a full-circle completeness. It also makes sense that, particularly in the case of the Jersey Boys medley, to have the four member group sing the music that the four-member Four Seasons performed in such thrilling harmony. What these two tracks frame, however, is an entirely different album altogether.
Track 2 of the album moves us into the pop opera and contemporary musical theatre portion of the album. This is where it comfortably remains until the final track. I can almost guarantee that there isn’t a single showtune you won’t know. Starting with “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard, the boys take us on a journey through some of the most infectious (if oft-recorded) showtunes. Their version of the Bernstein/Sondheim classic “Maria” from West Side Story is ethereal, arguably one of the most exciting songs on the album.
Exhilaration is the only word that I can think of to capture what Collabro inspires with the Elton John/Lee Hall “Electricity” from the musical Billy Elliott. It has never been a song that spoke to me personally, but in their delicious harmonies, the band makes the song spark, bringing its metaphor into the vocal realm of reality. If it is a song you already appreciate, then their version is only going to make you love it more, but it is their rendition that finally grabbed me.
The band also performs a courageous “On My Own” from Les Misérables. There are no lyric alterations to make it more comfortable to the hetero-centrist world. The song is sung with the object of affection remaining male. This may not seem like a big deal, but Collabro has a gay male amongst its ranks and they certainly have a few in their fan base, so it is meaningful that this lovely and heartbreaking song be performed with that perspective. It is also one of the more arresting tracks on the album.
Rounding out the album are “Why God Way” from Miss Saigon, “Don’t Cry from Me Argentina” from Evita, “Never Enough” from the film The Greatest Showman, and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. For songs that has been “done to death,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and particularly “Defying Gravity” feel fresh and alive on “Road to the Royal Albert Hall, “ the voices blending in intricate harmonies that shake the dust off of these standards. You never feel like Collabro is feeding you reheated leftovers.
“Road to the Royal Albert Hall” is a terrific album that musical theatre fans are going to want to own. It’s full of fun, familiar tunes that are executed to the usual high-standards and unique sound that Collabro has made the ingredients of their artistry. I am hoping that their next album (and there will most assuredly be a next album) will be a little more adventurous. I’d love to hear what they would do with “Easy Terms” or “Tell Me It’s Not True” from Blood Brothers, “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden, “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!, “The Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon, and “They Call the Wind Maria” from Paint Your Wagon. Their silky voices were made for these type of songs and their interpretations would a treat to musical theatre audiences who have a taste for both the old and the new. “Road to the Royal Albert Hall” leans toward the new, and that is just fine for now. It only inspires us to want a more-varied mix the next time around.