JOHN BARROWMAN: FABULOUS
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Sunday 30th June, 2019
He arrives on stage to a rousing welcome from the Birmingham audience and the appreciation never dips from that point. Shimmying around in a blue suit and black shirt, Barrowman exhorts us to ‘Celebrate good times, come on!’. This is a party as much as a concert. The premise is a retrospective of his thirty years in The Business – he deals with his stage and screen appearances in a jokingly curt manner, but I am reminded of his early days on Saturday morning television, and a younger, nervous me going to the stage door after a matinee performance of Sunset Boulevard and meeting a younger, just-as-handsome him. There were about three of us at the stage door on that occasion; nowadays there are mobs. He signed my programme and I stammered out a couple of compliments. (I met him again years later, at a pantomime launch, and managed to get my words out that time!)
There is an emphasis on fun. Barrowman swaps dick jokes with the on-stage sign language interpreter. He shows us photographs and video clips of his family and his pets. And he sparkles and shines every minute. There’s a bit of Q&A about his time in the celebrity jungle, and there’s more upbeat numbers so we can clap along. It’s a bit wedding singer at times, but Barrowman can pull off the cheese by dint of energy alone, and the support of his excellent band.
What works best though are ballads like Barry Manilow’s I Made It Through The Rain and the Perry Como classic, And I Love You So – the latter being perfect, beautiful in fact. Songs like these and show tunes are better platforms for Barrowman’s vocal stylings. He performs a doctored version of The Wizard and I (from Wicked) and I prickle with shivery nostalgia. His Doctor Who character, Captain Jack Harkness, was a ground-breaking representation of non-heterosexuality in prime time TV and gave the openly gay actor’s career a jump start.
Barrowman gets us all to wave our hands in the air while he records a clip for Instagram with a rainbow flag in the foreground. It’s World Pride Day, after all, and we gays (especially those of us who are no longer twinks, twonks or twunks) should be proud of the positivity Barrowman represents.
In the second half, he brings his octogenarian parents on stage. No ‘slosh’ from them this time, but Barrowman père can out-sauce his cheeky son any day of the week, while Barrowman mère surprises us all into a standing ovation for a well-sung, beautiful song. She may be visibly frail but there’s clearly nothing wrong with Marion’s vocal pipes. And we see where he gets it from: the humour from his dad, the singing from his mum. There is also an appearance from Barrowman’s handsome husband Scott – clearly not at home on the stage, Scott acquits himself with a decent and enjoyable rendition of Quando Quando Quando.
I can do without the In Memoriam section for audience members’ dead dogs; I’d much rather he invited us just to think about loved ones we have lost while he sings Goodbye My Friend – but that’s just my taste, I suppose. He makes up for it with a gobsmacking performance of the empowering anthem, I Am What I Am. ‘Fabulous’ has never been more applicable.
The show overruns – we won’t let him go – and it finishes with a soaring version of Loch Lomond. You can’t accuse John Barrowman of not giving value for money – although at fifteen quid a pop, the souvenir programmes are a bit steep!
Uplifting, funny and inspirational, Barrowman is one of our finest entertainers, with talent as big as his onstage personality. I can easily imagine being back in another thirty years for more.
To revert to an earlier catchphrase: Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic!