‘Broadway Rocks’!: The National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap by Jennifer Perry

It was another hot Washington, DC summer evening at Wolf Trap on Friday, July 6th. However, those who braved the heat were treated to a rocking National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) concert featuring 4 Broadway vocalists – Rob Evan, Morgan James, LaKisha Jones, and Doug LaBrecque. Broadway ROCKS! has been a mainstay of symphonies across the country and it’s clear why it remains a popular event. Friday night’s concert was no exception to the rule. On more than one occasion, the Wolf Trap audience rose to its feet and hollered in appreciation for the talent on stage.

Although I had some misgivings about the setlist, the talent tasked with performing the material mostly made up for that deficiency. The solo vocal performers, the City Choir of Washington, the NSO (conducted by the energetic Randall Craig Fleischer) and several guest instrumentalists, displayed excellent musicianship and first-rate performance abilities. The NSO still proved that it is a premier orchestra in this country and the solo vocalists also deserve special mention.
Morgan James. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Morgan James has perhaps one of the most versatile, textured, interesting, and astounding voices on Broadway today. Having just finished a solid run of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell on Broadway, she took on another Schwartz tune – “Defying Gravity” from the ever popular and long-running Wicked. Her unique vocal choices on this song set her apart from many of the people I’ve heard sing it since it became a blockbuster hit. Combining spectacular technique with committed and Broadway-worthy performance skills, James made her rendition one to remember. Her contribution to several duets with Doug LaBrecque and Rob Evan were also highlights. Taking on the role of Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera” (from The Phantom of the Opera) and Sarah in “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (from the infamous Broadway flop/hit of the German stage, Dance of the Vampires), she gave a master class in versatility and making the best use of an astounding vocal range.

LaKisha Jones. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

LaKisha Jones may only have one Broadway credit to her name (she appeared in The Color Purple as a replacement after her stint on American Idol), but she more than proved that she belonged up on stage with the Broadway vets. Her renditions of “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going),” “Proud Mary,” and “I Will Always Love You,” brought the house down and made the audience stand up and cheer. Her powerful and bombastic vocals were evident on all of these songs. None of these songs deserve subtlety and she more than proved she’s not only a great recording artist, but a performer who can command the stage with the best of them.

Rob Evan. Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy of BroadwayWorld.

Rob Evan (best known to Broadway geeks for his performance in Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hyde) was best featured in the ensemble/duet pieces. His participation in “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with James allowed him to show off his song interpretation skills and skillful pop-tenor voice. His performance of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude!” was noteworthy in that it oozed charisma. I personally found his style of performance too cheesy and overdone, but he certainly did command the audience’s attention.

Doug LaBrecque . Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Of the four singers, Doug LaBrecque excelled the most at combining impeccable vocals with palpable emotion. By far, his rendition of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was the highlight of the night. Perhaps best known to Broadway fans for his performances as Raoul and the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, he returned to his roots and also gave a stunning vocal performance of the title song from that show (with James). I very much hope he returns to Broadway sooner rather than later.

Randall Craig Fleischer. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Although nearly all of the songs featured interesting arrangements by the multi-talented Randall Craig Fleischer, I did question the set list. Some songs were written expressly for the stage and others had a tenuous connection to Broadway (or the West End) as they’ve been featured in jukebox musicals. Several others, though sung at this event by Broadway talent, have never been featured on Broadway (or the West End). Certainly, the popular rock tunes from Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent and the like deserve a place in a concert like this. However, I would have liked to have heard more rock songs from other lesser-known but certainly as (if not more) talented Broadway composers such as Tom Kitt. The popular jukebox songs (whether featured on Broadway or not) certainly are fun, but it would be nice to have an event that’s apparently focused on Broadway live up to its name. The ideal would be to not only have a concert that is entertaining, but one that exposes mainstream audiences to the astounding array of composing talent that have contributed to Broadway rock musicals. Broadway (and by extension musical theatre) DOES rock and the country needs to know that.

Running Time: Two hours including an intermission.

Broadway Rocks! was a one-night only concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts’ Filene Center in Vienna, VA. Visit the Wolf Trap website for a list of upcoming events in its 2012 summer season.



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