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Musical theatre fans rejoice! The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra has prepared a night of the longest-running Broadway shows' music for your auditory enjoyment. Often, we theater-goers let the orchestra become a little-noticed element of our favorite musicals. This is usually unintentional – we go to the theater to watch thrilling stories, listen to powerhouse singers, and be amazed by complex sets, lights and costumes. Last night, the CSO peeled back those layers to feature what makes or breaks a great musical: the score. Playing music from Broadway's longest-running and arguably most iconic shows is no easy feat. Still, the orchestra succeeded in not only playing intricate compositions with grace and vigor, but also in creating an energetic atmosphere reminiscent of an exciting night watching our favorite musicals.
This pops concert opened with the immediately recognizable A Chorus Line arrangement by Robert Lowden. It came as a welcome surprise that the orchestra had a perfectly simple lighting design to accompany its performance; the subtle changes of color and shape on stage as the program moved from musical to musical were so interesting to watch, dropping breadcrumbs for the audience to follow if they were paying close enough attention. At the end of the A Chorus Line feature, the lights darkened to cover just the orchestra, with blue and orange hues silhouetting them, a reference to the moment in "One," where the company of the show lines up in its famous kickline. There were moments like these sprinkled throughout the night, some less obvious than others. I recommend you pay close attention to them!
At times, it can feel a bit strange to hear just the score of some of these musicals. Never fear, as the CSO featured two vocalists to help them perform some of the music. And oh do they know how to help. In the second number, Julie Reiber and Justin Sargent (a last-minute replacement for the original performer) sang "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" with the orchestra. Don't let their mild-mannered performance here fool you, however. Julie Reiber's light and humble voice absolutely transformed in later songs, "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Defying Gravity." Particularly in the Wicked selection, Reiber absolutely blew the roof off of the Knight Theater. Her powerful belt and vocal resonance was truly one of the highlights of the night. Sargent's vocal performance was also not to be missed. His reedy voice took its time to shine, but fully delivered once "Music of the Night" came around. This rock musical-type singer definitely held his own with the CSO.
The night concluded with a Mamma Mia! medley arranged by Gary Fry. It was a fun way to end, with Reiber and Sargent encouraging the audience to get up and dance while colorful lights filled the stage. They even performed an encore at the audience's insistence. It was unlike any pops concert I've ever been to, with all the excitement of both an ABBA concert and its musical counterpart.
I appreciate the CSO welcoming the theatrical in its Broadway-themed concert. This merge of genres is a little risky, as audiences don't often go to the theater to enjoy the score. But this was an opportunity to hear all the intricate details that make up the scores of our favorite musicals, while also keeping what makes them fun. There were moments where we did miss some of the original orchestration, the Chicago highlights being one example. The "down and dirty" jazz musical sounds a bit odd when arranged for the cleaner, more elegant sound of an orchestra. But it is still an opportunity to get a different kind of audience member in their seats, so I commend them for that.
So, head over to the Knight Theater to experience a night of Broadway, to hear Reiber and Sargent's excellent voices, and to delight in the sounds of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
The CSO's "Broadway's Longest" continues at the Knight Theater through May 14th. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.