People crowded into Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre to hear the North Carolina Symphony perform Broadway’s Greatest Hits as part of UNC Rex Healthcare’s Summerfest 2019 Series. The songs selected were well known, having been pulled from the top ten longest running shows, and extremely well loved, making the concert a crowd-pleasing one. Every note the orchestra played called to mind vivid images and memories of some of Broadway’s greatest stories and songs.

The opening number, a medley from Marvin Hamlisch‘s musical A Chorus Line, drew the audience’s attention to the stage and got people into the Broadway state of mind with its fun and showy melodies. There may not have been dancers parading across the stage, but the bold performance of the piece made it easy to imagine that there were. Younger audience members, whose attentions were perhaps still wandering by the end of the opening number, were quickly engaged by the next section of the program, which featured music from The Lion King. This orchestral suite, arranged by Brad Kelley, opened with some of the show’s more fragile melodies, played with great tenderness and warmth. The percussionist then took the spotlight, transporting the audience to scenes of animals celebrating in the plains of Africa and dancing through colorful jungles. Those whose childhood involved frequent viewing of the Disney movie smiled fondly. For “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the guest vocalists, Julie Reiber and Rodney Ingram, joined the proceedings. Although Elton John‘s iconic love song may have been better suited for a voice gentler than Reiber’s and better balanced with the warmth of Ingram’s, the duo still reached a tender spot in the hearts of listeners.

Claude-Michel Schönberg‘s powerful and deeply moving melodies of Les Misérables have brought many to tears, and this performance delivered on the songs’ inherent emotionality. Playing selections arranged by Robert W. Lowden, they NCS took the audience from the Thénardiers’ sleazy inn through a variety of memorable scenes and finally to the streets where the people rallied for battle. Next, Reiber graced the stage to perform perhaps one of the most powerful pieces from Les Mis, “I Dreamed a Dream,” capturing the pain in the music with sensitive and emotional accompaniments. There were times throughout the song when Reiber’s volume increased to the point of almost seeming brash, perhaps a result of the sound system: the blasting fortes detracted from an otherwise excellent performance. Ingram’s performance of “Bring Him Home” followed; it was one of the most impactful moments of the concert. Prior to singing, Ingram described the piece as a prayer for a man to return safely from war, and dedicated his performance of it to those whose loved ones are estranged from them, perhaps due to involvement in the military. Ingram’s heartfelt dedication, his obvious understanding of the meaning behind the words, and his stunningly beautiful singing resulted in more than a few teary eyes. The standing ovation (one of only two the entire evening) confirmed the impact of the performance.

The next few pieces on the program were lighter in mood, one being an orchestral suite from Beauty and the Beast and a couple coming from the musical Wicked. Undeniably a crowd favorite, the music from Beauty and the Beast, written by Alan Menken and arranged by Danny Troob, brought smiles to the faces of all ages. After an intermission, there was a medley of songs from Stephen Schwartz‘s Wicked. Reiber sang “Defying Gravity,” a song that was notably a better fit for her powerful voice. Guest conductor Michael Krajewski enhanced these pieces with interesting and informative dialogue between himself and Reiber. He pointed out that Reiber actually sang “Defying Gravity” as Elphaba in the original Los Angeles cast of Wicked. He went on to list some of her other impressive experiences in musical theatre.

After a lively performance of highlights from Kander and Ebb‘s Chicago and a deeply moving rendition of “All I ask of You” from Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s The Phantom of the Opera, Krajewski held a conversation with Ingram similar to the one with Reider. Krajewski asked at one point about Ingram’s role as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera in 2017. “I enjoyed it…. I got to fall in love eight times a week for a little over a year,” Ingram replied, a comment that resulted in much laughter. The audience sat completely engrossed in the dialogue, valuing the momentary accessibility into the world of Broadway and the songs on the program.

Although it was the role of Raoul that Ingram played in Phantom of the Opera, he switched gears with a performance of “The Music of the Night,” sung by the Phantom in the musical. Ingram said it was “a refreshing change” to sing this darker, more sinister song. He wholeheartedly stepped into character, luring listeners into the music with his velvety voice and enunciating each word as though casting a spell. The audience listened, entranced, holding breaths and remaining frozen until the final, eerie note of the song faded to silence. Then they rose to their feet for the second time that night, applauding Ingram’s stunning performance.

The musicians changed moods completely, ending the concert on an upbeat note with a medley of songs from ABBA‘s Mamma Mia! People sang along with Reiber and Ingram and left the park still singing.

It seems that very little music gets people as excited as does the music of Broadway, perhaps because when talented musicians like Julie Reiber and Rodney Ingram visit Broadway with the North Carolina Symphony, the music reaches past the ears of listeners and straight into their hearts, minds, and all places where memories live. It was an unforgettable concert.

There are more Summerfest concerts ahead. To most easily view a listing of them all, search “Summerfest” on CVNC‘s homepage.