Throw together a Philharmonia Choir, a couple of seasoned musical theatre performers, a classical composer and the music of the most acclaimed act in modern music and you’ve got The Beatles Unplugged, an unusual upcoming collaboration that composer Sally Whitwell was immersed in when the Star Observer spoke to her.

“Choirs have a reputation for being a little bit daggy, but actually the choir as an instrument is a wonderful thing. It’s a big group of people with a singular purpose,” Whitwell told us.

Musical matinee idols Bobby Fox (Jersey Boys) and Rob Mills (Wicked) will join the Sydney Philharmonia Choir on stage for the two City Recital Hall concerts, as they unite to perform some of The Beatles most enduring songs including Yesterday, Let it Be, All My Loving, Norwegian Wood and Paperback Writer.

Whitwell admitted that getting the chance to revamp these classics was the culmination of a lifelong love affair with the band.

“[The music of The Beatles] is very much embedded in the memory of my childhood. Then as I got older, and I started to hear more of the other albums my parents didn’t have, I was in awe of the scope and range of their creativity. How they could come from doing these little slightly dinky pop songs to doing things like A Day In the Life and The White Album. That growth in a pop band is really unique in the history of music,” she said.

Drawn as she is to the band’s more complex, musically mature later songs, Whitwell said she had been taking a text-driven approach to arranging the numbers, teasing out their true meanings.

“A lot of people hear pop songs but don’t necessarily listen to the words or the meaning. And with really good pop songs, like those of The Beatles, they’re very involved. Certainly the ones that we’ve chosen have layers of very personal meaning,” she said.

“For instance, one song we’ve chosen that always makes me cry is She’s Leaving Home. The girl leaving home and flying the nest, and her parents sadness about that mixed with her relief at going out on her own … there are so many layers to it.”

While Whitwell said she loved arranging for choir (“There’s something they do that solo singers can’t that’s kind of … unnamable,”), she was equally excited to see what Fox and Mills would bring to the songs.

“They approach the songs in a different way, with a different emphasis on text that you don’t get so much in choral music. Mixing these elements together, I think everyone’s going to learn a lot about each other’s styles.

“Even when it’s an individual song, these actors are looking for meaning in the text, asking themselves that old chestnut: ‘What’s my motivation? I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true.”

INFO: The Beatles Unplugged, City Recital Hall, August 24-25. Tickets: 02-8256 2222

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