In Meymandi Concert Hall on a positively balmy evening, the North Carolina Symphony offered the first of three presentations of the penultimate program of its 2014/15 Raleigh pops series. The guest artists were Kathy Voytko, Richard Todd Adams, Ron Remke, and Ted Keegan. William Henry Curry conducted, once again demonstrating that a large measure of the greatness of any music rests in the interpreters' inspiration in playing it. The program, dubbed "Best of Broadway," covered a lot of ground, ranging from The Music Man to scores by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude Michel-Schönberg, with many heartwarming stops along the way.
First up was an overture arranged by Jack Everly, whose potpourri of favorites got things underway with style and panache.
It may be worth noting that we attend some concerts for enlightenment and enrichment, others for entertainment. This evening represented the latter category, but there were moments of enlightenment and large swaths of outstanding musicianship on frequent display, and on more than a few occasions there was enrichment, too, thanks to Curry's innovative program choices and the rock-solid work of the guest artists and the members of the NCS. Among the purely orchestral highlights were snazzy renditions of the "Jellicle Ball," from Webber's Cats and a truly stunning performance of the rarely-heard (indeed, virtually unknown) original overture to Bernstein's West Side Story, arranged for symphony orchestra by Maurice Peress. These and all the accompaniments, too, were given the kind of attention some bands reserve for the greatest of the mainstream classics, so this was truly a wonderful evening in the concert hall!
The visiting artists, all experienced professionals, were, as is the custom, amplified. The sound system in the hall is excellent, so all could be clearly heard, even with the orchestra going full tilt, but never was there even a hint of distortion, even in the loudest parts.
Well-known excerpts – in many cases, the best-known excerpts – from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, and Jekyll & Hyde introduced, in turn the three men (Remke, Keegan, and Adams, respectively). An attractively choreographed version of Henry Mancini's "Le Jazz Hot" (from Victor/Victoria), charmingly introduced by the conductor, brought forward the evening's very impressive soprano Voytko, who certainly has the voice (and the looks) for the stage; she was handsomely partnered by the gents, whose stage movement and vocal additions were significant enhancements. A "Leading Men Medley" brought the first half to a glowing close; this is a superb, virtually seamless series of arrangements, drawing together in one place a rich panoply of well-loved show-stopping songs, for which the three male singers were all in top form.
Part two opened with the orchestra alone in "76 Trombones," the brass section on especially prominent display, and the ensuing "Trouble in River City" made for a very attractive pairing from the same show. After the aforementioned WSS overture, the singing resumed with a fine trio of dramatic Webber hits from Evita (one of the evening's highlights for Voytko), Jesus Christ Superstar, and Phantom of the Opera, with the men once again in outstanding voice and form.
The grand finale was a generous (20-minute) and often stirring helping of tunes from Les Misérables involving all the guests, at the end of which the crowd was immediately on its feet, applauding and in some cases cheering. Curry gave the visitors ample time in the post-concert sun, having previously praised the vocalists ("How 'bout these four singers?") and the "world-class [NC] symphony orchestra." On the way out, a few people grumbled that there'd been no encore, but in truth what could have topped the call to "join in [the] crusade"?
We haven't provided links to the shows in this review, but surely our readers know that the very best source of information on all things Broadway is the Internet Broadway Database. (The NCS' program listings are somewhat skeletal for these concerts, so we've added the titles of all the shows that are excerpted; more thorough documentation for future pops events would be welcome.)
Two more presentations of the "Best of Broadway" remain; both on April 18; for details, see the sidebar. The orchestra does these concerts very nicely, with varying lighting and a few projections onto the back wall thrown in for good measure – check 'em out!
This series concludes on May 15-16 with "Pops Goes Vegas," for details of which, click here.