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The North Carolina Master Chorale led by the dynamic director Alfred Sturgis, treated a sold-out audience to timeless musical theatre favorites, taken from the productions of Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Called "Barons of Broadway," the program featured favorites from shows such as Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific. This was more than just a pops program, however; with a precise balance of selections and medleys from both composers, the concert led the listeners to discover the contrast and progression of 20th century musical theatre between Hammerstein and Sondheim, whose mentor was Hammerstein himself.
The concert began with the upbeat and comical song "Comedy Tonight" from Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Master Chorale's unified and perfectly blended sound was supported by pianist Susan Lohr as well as bassist Ittai Korman and drummer Dale Baker. Throughout the concert, the addition of the latter two instruments helped to create an atmosphere that was definitively musical theatre, with some jazz influences at times too. There was immediate contrast through the first half of the concert by alternating upbeat and more melodic songs; "Comedy Tonight" was followed by the suspenseful "Ballad of Sweeney Todd." A highlight of the first half was absolutely the Act I Opening of Into the Woods, where different characters sing intertwining melodies to create a musically complex texture, as is a trademark of Sondheim's music. Narrator Phil Hanna set the scene, and Chorale member soloists Erin Harris, Hannah Lee, Bradley Layton, Clelia Fry, and Thomas Keefe became the fairytale characters that tell the story of Into the Woods. Melissa Shaheen played the part of the Witch, and was quite engaging with her whimsical instructions to the Baker and his Wife. All of these elements combined to make this selection a particularly immersive experience for the audience.
Another beautiful performance of the first half was the seldom-performed "Preludium" from The Sound of Music. This Latin chant was performed a capella by the women of the Master Chorale and was an interesting contrast to the rest of the program. The nun's chorus provided a successful transition to The Sound of Music medley that followed.
After the intermission, the Master Chorale performed Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," a snappy and fun piece that contrasted with Sondheim's soft "Send in the Clowns" (from A Little Night Music). "Send in the Clowns" is full of rich chords, with suspensions that create gentle tension. The classic ballad "If I Loved You," from Carousel, was sung a capella, making the dramatic melody and its harmonies very satisfying. After a very unique medley of Sondheim tunes from different shows, the concert ended with the uplifting anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. This was a perfect choice, leaving the audience with a hopeful tone that closed an enjoyable and musically top-notch concert.