Earlier this year, a big surprise shook the Grammy Awards — the winner of Best Musical Theater Album wasn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, or Stephen Schwartz (all of whom were nominated). Instead, a concept album that debuted on TikTok, created by two young women and fans of the show Bridgerton on Netflix, took home the big award.
Not long after that Grammy win, Barlow & Bear (the duo who wrote the songs and starred in the TikTok videos) began work on taking the sensation of The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical and translating it to this concert version with the National Symphony Orchestra and a cavalcade of Broadway singers. According to the duo, they created and put on this performance in only eight weeks.
The incredibly enthusiastic sold-out crowd, largely Gen Z and Millennial folks, raucously cheered for every song and high note. It was the warmest possible reception for the musical’s first-ever live concert performance.
Throughout the evening, Barlow & Bear provided lively and charming banter about the songs, performers, and their overall amazement at the short journey from making music in their living rooms to performing at the Kennedy Center. Abigail Barlow herself sang the role of Daphne Bridgerton while Emily Bear performed as Penelope Featherington and at the piano, both to the absolute delight of their fans in the audience.
However, the jewels of the evening were the titans of musical theater who brought the work to life.
Barlow’s songs with Ephraim Sykes as Simon Basset were packed with the chemistry that made the show a hit, as well as a beautiful musical blend. Sykes’ smooth voice fit perfectly with the role of the Duke of Hastings, showcasing the deep passion and pain of the character. “Alone Together” was a standout, with Sykes’ and Barlow’s voices commingling like the lovers themselves, punctuated by the heavy heartbeat created by the steady drum. “Burn for You,” another duet, was a clear crowd favorite (and the video I recalled seeing most on TikTok myself), garnering thunderous applause.
Micaela Diamond charmed as Eloise Bridgerton, bringing comic relief through the songs closest to the traditional musical theater wheelhouse — particularly “If I Were a Man.” A surprise tap dance by Diamond and Barlow amped up the fun and captivated the audience.
“Entertain Me” with Emmy Raver-Lampman as the Queen was a showstopper. Raver-Lampman’s almost-operatic vocals, coupled with acting that showcased the Queen’s range of emotions, made this number a high point of the show.
Darlesia Cearcy as Lady Danbury was a standout, bringing the house down at the end of “The Ruse.” She was also featured alongside Rebecca Eichenberger as Lady Featherington and the absolutely dynamite Kelly O’Hara as Viscountess Bridgerton in the exceptional “Balancing the Scales.” Hearing O’Hara was a real treat, and the trio of women made this one of the highlights of the night.
My favorite song was a new one, titled “Secrets, Secrets,” centering the immense talent of Denée Benton. The number evolved into a quintet with Barlow and Sykes, as well as Jason Gotay as Anthony Bridgerton and Solea Pfeiffer as Sienna. This piece had the best vocal blend of the evening, providing Broadway-worthy lush harmonies, lovely orchestration, and piano by Emily Bear that perfectly punctuated the moment.
Bear’s piano work throughout the entire performance was lovely, supporting the vocals and showcasing her clear instrumental talent in every song. The music itself fit well with a full orchestra, though I was expecting to feel more of the power in having the strength of the National Symphony Orchestra on these songs. That said, the NSO was a joy to hear, particularly in the Overture, and may have made some new young fans.
There were just a few missteps. With incredibly strong belters (such as in the extended version of “Fool for You” with Gotay and Pfeiffer), it sometimes felt as though the singers were competing to be heard rather than blending well, often overpowering the instrumentation. The full group numbers were also a bit muddled, less tight than the album version and hard on the ear to discern
The performance was short, running about 75 minutes or so, and I was left wanting to hear more (what a tease to get only 3 minutes of vocals from O’Hara, Benton, and Raver-Lampman!). The vocal talents on display were exceptional, though I couldn’t help but wonder how much more entertaining it would have been if the songs were written to fit the wider variety of vocal ranges on display, so the superstar vocalists could have truly displayed their chops. That said, the night at the Kennedy Center for The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical was a blast for this audience, filled with folks who followed the musical as it evolved on TikTok and were overjoyed to see it come to life.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission.
Barlow and Bear’s The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert played July 26, 2022, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall – 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC.
The program for The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks are required for all patrons inside all theaters during performances at the Kennedy Center unless actively eating or drinking. Kennedy Center’s complete COVID Safety Plan is here.