This weekend, the North Carolina Theatre ends its 2002 season on a very high note indeed, with a bravura performance of Broadway in Concert Featuring the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. This locally assembled musical revue, exuberantly co-conducted by Broadway favorite Edward G. Robinson and NCT resident musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy, features five Broadway veterans in evening wear, reprising the signature solos from the parts that they performed in recent mega-musicals and performing other hits by Sir Andrew and a veritable “Who’s Who” of the best composers and lyricists in contemporary musical theater.
Last Saturday night’s performance earned a loud and lengthy standing ovation at its conclusion. African-American baritone George Merritt, who grew up within spitting distance of Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, was the obvious crowd favorite. Although he did not even appear until the second half of the program, Merritt stole the show, bringing the house down with his dynamic duets (with Ray Walker) on “River in the Rain” and “Muddy Water” from Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (music and lyrics by Country & Western superstar Roger Miller).
Considered by many to be the quintessential Jim in Big River on Broadway, Merritt also scored his solo on “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime (music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) and combined with Laurie Gayle Stephenson for a poignant duet of star-crossed lovers on “You Should Be Loved” from Side Show (music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Bill Russell). Merritt and highly talented young African-American actress Johmaalya Adelekan, who played Sarah in Ragtime, also made beautiful music together while singing one of that show’s musical highlights, “The Wheels of a Dream.”
Cris Groenendaal and Laurie Gayle Stephenson, who played the horribly scarred Phantom of the Paris Opera and his beloved Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, contributed a show-stopping version of “All I Ask of You” (with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe). Subsequent solos by Stephenson on “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and Groenendaal on “The Music of the Night” were real crowd-pleasers.
Sizzling solo versions of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (Stephenson) and “High Flying Adored” (Walker) from Evita (music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice) were also highlights of Broadway in Concert.
Guest conductor Edward G. Robinson really put the highly talented 35-piece on-stage orchestra through its paces on “Jellicle Ball” from Cats (music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot) and the “Evita Interlude” from Evita; and NCT’s McCrae Hardy wielded a mean baton on “The Lion King Orchestral Suite” from The Lion King (music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice).
First half highlights included robust renditions of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (Adelekan), “Gethsemane” (Groenendaal), and “Superstar” (Walker) from Jesus Christ Superstar (music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice); “I Dreamed a Dream” (Adelekan) and “Bring Him Home” (Groenendaal) from Les Misérables (music by Claude Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer).
A show comprised of entirely showstoppers, such as Broadway in Concert Featuring the Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber, relies heavily on its director and choreographer to set the pace and determine which songs will be sung (and acted) in character and which songs will simply be sung. New York director/choreographer Tee Scatuorchio masterfully staged the North Carolina Theatre’s season-ending musical extravaganza, with ample assistance from technical director Christopher Johnson, lighting designer Bob Bonniol, and sound designer Jonathan Parke. Ioana Alfonso and Michael Fielder also contributed some dynamic dance interludes.
Although the sequences during which the on-stage spotlights panned the audience eventually became more and more annoying, Broadway in Concert is still a gem of contemporary musical theater. Don’t miss it.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Broadway in Concert Featuring the Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber Thursday-Friday, Oct. 17-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh. $17-$58. 919/831-6950 or 919/834-4000. http://www.nctheatre.com/.