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Meet Me on the Corner of Broadway and Swing, an original concert program a la last year's Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy season-ender Beyond Broadway: An Evening of Song with Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell, concludes HSN's 2006 season on a very high note indeed. It provides a wonderful showcase for rising Broadway star Jennifer Shrader and crooner Les Lankhorst, who has made a career of reproducing Frank Sinatra's distinctive vocal stylings.
Shrader brings a Broadway voice to the Kennedy Theater stage; Lankhorst brings a superb sense of phrasing; and Kelsey Halbert, who does triple duty as the show's musical director, arranger, and pianist in the on-stage HSN band, has custom-tailored a potpourri of familiar show tunes and swing standards to the impressive vocal talents of Shrader and Lankhorst and a red-hot on-stage band that includes Mike Kris (trombone), Michael Mole (trumpet), Steve Roe (saxophone and flute), Carlton Miles (drums), and Damon Brown (bass).
Lankhorst and Shrader opened the show with dynamic duets on two classic songs from the American songbook: Peggy Lee's "I Love Being Here with You" and Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You." Shrader begin her solo segment of Meet Me on the Corner of Broadway and Swing with two songs from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (the title tune, which she never got to sing when she played Belle and Babette on Broadway and on tour, and "(There's Been) A Change in Me," which was added to the show for Toni Braxton and remains in it today).
Shrader delighted HSN patrons with her bravura performances of Kristin Chenoweth's "The Girl in 14G," especially the operatic arias of her downstairs neighbor; "Cry Me a River" (with Mike Kris providing hilarious comic counterpoint on trombone), "Zing Went the Strings (of My Heart)," "Meet Me in St. Louis," country diva Martina McBride's "In My Daughter's Eyes," and "Tomorrow" from Annie.
Lankhorst returned for a poignant duet with Shrader on "(That's) All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera, then sang two Sinatra hits ("I've Got the World on a String" and "Come Fly with Me") and a Harry Connick, Jr., hit ("It Had to Be You" from the soundtrack of the hit movie When Harry Met Sally), putting his own personal stamp on each and every lyric.
Les Lankhorst also delivered a finger-snapping, toe-tapping version of Peggy Lee's signature song ("Fever") and joined with Jennifer Shrader for a memorable duet on Nat King Cole's hit "Unforgettable." Then Lankhorst switched gears to perform vivacious versions of a country-and-western classic (Roger Miller's "King of the Road"), a haunting Broadway ballad ("Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables), and Kermit the Frog's whimsical hit ("Rainbow Connection" from "The Muppet Movie").
Shrader sang a haunting version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz, and then combined with Lankhorst (channeling Bobby Darin) for a frisky version of "Mack the Knife" from The Threepenny Opera.
With Jennifer Shrader demonstrating a remarkable vocal range, Les Lankhorst caressing lyrics until he makes them purr, and the HSN band led by musical director Kelsey Halbert provided high-octane instrumental accompaniment, Meet Me on the Corner of Broadway and Swing is a veritable feast for the ear. The opening-night audience gave the show a standing ovation. No doubt, it is only the first of many.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Meet Me on the Corner of Broadway and Swing Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 16-19 and 23-26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 20 and 27, at 3 p.m. in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25, with pay-what-you-can Sundays ($10 minimum). Group Rates (for groups of 10 or more): $17.50 each for each for members of adult groups ($15 each for members of student groups). Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/broadway&swing.htm [inactive 5/07]. Jennifer Shrader: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=91688. Les Lankhorst: http://www.leslankhorst.com/.