Chichester Festival Theatre's concert in the park was some enchanted evening

REVIEW: By any measure, the dazzling return of Chichester's festival theatre after a six month Covid enforced absence was an enchanted evening.

Giles Terera performs at Chichester Festival Theatre's Concert in the Park. Photo Richard Gibbons
Giles Terera performs at Chichester Festival Theatre's Concert in the Park. Photo Richard Gibbons

Even a swathe of foreboding clouds were swept aside by some heavenly directoral hand on the dot of curtain up at 6pm.

The last and best of the day's sunlight broke through like a perfectly positioned spotlight on some of the very best West End musicians as they performed songs from the musicals.

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The big summer show inside the auditorium had originally been billed as South Pacific.

Coronavirus laid waste to all those plans, but in Oaklands Park on Monday evening, the Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece was given a partial reprise.

Appropriately, Some Enchanted Evening kicked off the selection.

But the hour and a half - which sold out even more quickly than the run time - did not allow one great show to confine its ambitions.

West Side Story, Brigadoon, Wicked, and even some Disney classics, were added to the magical mix.

The audience was socially distanced, contained in white boxes etched on the parkland. Safety was paramount.

There were surprises galore too.

Not least the appearance of artistic director Daniel Evans as a singing performer. Ever since his arrival at the theatre we had been promised he would take to the stage. There could have been no better nor powerful feature debut.

Singing You're The Top from Anything Goes, Evans hit all the right notes with Gina Beck.

Then, as he snapped a photo of a cheering audience, he had a few heartfelt words to say as well. In praise of the arts, the bedrock of our culture, and thanks to everyone who had made the evening so special.

The line-up included Gabrielle Brooks, Rob Houchen, Julian Ovenden, Giles Terera, under musical director Tom Brady. Omid Djalili - who starred in Fiddler on the Roof at the CFT in 2017 as he was not afraid to remind us - pulled it all together as compere.

The final number from Carousel - You'll Never Walk Alone - had real poignancy. Here we were in our separate segmented boxes, walking alone.

And yet, on this incredible evening of renaissance, we were all walking tall, together too.

This was not the full return of the theatre. We will have to wait a little longer for that. But spiritually, emotionally, collectively, it was the first bold step in that direction.