50 YEARS OF BROADWAY AT THE KENNEDY CENTER

BWW review: 50 YEARS OF BROADWAY AT THE KENNEDY CENTER
The 50 Years of Broadway Company at the Kennedy Center.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

Broadway fervor rekindled as top Broadway musical talent converged at the Kennedy Center for an evening of musical fun and panache in concert 50 years of Broadway at the Kennedy Center. Musical selections of Broadway favorites like Cabaret, West Side Story, Naughty, Madness, Funny Girl, Pippin, Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park with George, Annie, The Book of Mormon and other memorable musicals were performed in Broadway style and brilliance by a cast of consummate musical theater professionals.

Broadway has had its share of “ups and downs” over the years, but it’s decidedly on the rebound due in large part to the Kennedy Center’s presentation of Broadway musicals that have made their way to Broadway as well. only to their presentation of many of the main popular films. Broadway classics and hits. During times of anxiety and stress, the Broadway Musical Song Healing Balm soothes but also provokes awareness with insightful lyrics and penetrating melodies.

This “forced to be legendary” concert encompassed so many facets of the Broadway musical in just over two hours — verve-belted legendary headliners, sensitively sung ballads, and a finely crafted tribute to the late and esteemed composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

Director Marc Bruni kept this star-studded concert afloat with expert rhythm and marked theatrical sensibility. One number after another swirled with simulating show biz electricity or pensive desire as the mood demanded. Mr. Bruni was assisted by choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter who showed a very versatile mastery of complex dance steps throughout the various numbers.

Dance Ensemble members Michael Baerga, Sir Brock, Tony Meredith, Dave Schoonover and Jacquez André Sims moved with momentum in their singular dance moves as well as their synergistic dance skills as an ensemble.

This exciting concert was full of highlights, starting with Gavin Creel’s agile and expressive rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin apple. Creel’s voice rose with a seething, open warmth.

The talented Vanessa Williams wowed with a captivating, seductive and pitch-perfect performance of “Hit me with a High Note” from sophisticated ladies. Williams is a true triple threat talent and she’s danced up a storm here.

Sierra Boggess thrilled the audience with a very spirited rendition of the classic “I Could Have Danced All Night” from my lovely lady. Boggess’ vocal quality is almost ethereal in beauty and purity of tone.

Beth Leavel, Gavin Creel and Betsy Wolfe have joined forces in the gleefully wicked comedic gem “Easy Street” from Anne and it shone with an air of abandonment.

“Maybe this time” from Cabaret was delivered in a bold, brassy style by Betsy Wolfe and it ended with a belt note to shake up the rafters.

Frances Ruffelle sang her flagship song (from Wretched), “On my Own” with its wonderful phrasing and polished tone that give depth to this haunting song. Ruffelle is a natural wonder of the Broadway stage and there is no one else quite like her.

Wretched fans continued to be delighted with the appearance of the talented Norm Lewis. Lewis’ rich, deep baritone was brought to life expressively in his deeply probing rendition of “Stars.” Lewis portrayed a soul alternately tormented but still driven by unwavering conviction.

Norm Lewis aficionados were also treated to a splendid delivery of the hypnotic “Music of the Night” from the hit The Phantom of the Opera. The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber fascinates with this popular musical standard.

Nostalgia for signature tunes played big like Andrea McCardle from Anne fame sang a rendition of “Tomorrow” that kept audiences hooked on those future hopes. McArdle’s tone has become softer but resonant over the years.

The nostalgia continued with the wonderfully lively and engaging Andrew Rannells singing the quirky and endearing ‘I Believe’ from the hilarious hit. The book of Mormon.

Stephanie J. Block held the audience in the palm of her hand with a catchy, provocative rendition of Stephen Schwartz’ hit “Defying Gravity” Bad.

The last third of the program was mainly devoted to the iconic and beloved composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Extracts from interviews and sequences on the illustrious Sondheim were projected on the stage screen. (The Kennedy Center got justified critical applause for their celebration of Sondheim held in 2002).

Sondheim’s “A Few People” Gypsy received a down-to-earth and relatable rendition by the talented Beth Leavel. If they revive this musical, the talented Level could easily take the helm.

“Buddy’s Blues” is a song of myriad moods that proves elusive to some, but Tony Yazbeck sang the guts out of this psychologically searing song from Follies. By his side, Beth Leavel and LaChanze were well accompanied.

Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” introspective Follies was juxtaposed with “Not A Day Goes By” by We ride happily in a delicately sung duet by Vanessa Williams and Sierra Boggess. (This superb duet was originally sung on Broadway by Mrs. Williams and the great Barbara Cook in the show Sondheim on Sondheim). Williams sang with clear control and sharpness on “Losing my Mind” and Boggess sang with the sense of fatalism but simultaneous effort inherent in “Not A Day Goes By”. This duet should be treasured as a touchstone for anyone who wants to understand why Sondheim’s music is so moving and so precious.

The inspiring “Wheels of a Dream” from the musical Ragtime helped wrap up the night with stunning vocals from Norm Lewis and LaChanze.

“Somewhere” from West Side Story was another call for inclusion with the concert performers singing the respective lines of the song, then, merging for a collective encore with standing ovations and sustained applause.

The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra was a joy to hear—as they lent their considerable skills to the middle of Broadway. The orchestra played with a very full and resonant, robust sound befitting this concert—with especially thrilling sounds for percussion and brass. Applause to Jay Crowder, Music Director, Musical Theater and Television and Conductor and Music Director Rob Berman. The Overture to the first act and the Overture to We ride happily by Stephen Sondheim.

Paul Tate’s stage and projection design of Poo Ⅲ was a visual feast—-the uppermost part of the stage displayed a visual proscenium with ever-changing images and below the marvelous Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra played on a slightly recessed raised platform for full viewing. The concert performers moved with creative ease past this well-designed backdrop.

The lighting design by Cory Pattak was evocative and often bathed the performers in striking beams of white light and the costume coordination by Alejo Vietti was obviously successful —– the evening’s outfits were sartorial visual delights.

The unique yet universally appealing art form of Broadway musicals is advancing, and the Kennedy Center continues the legacy of Broadway musicals for future generations. This extraordinary concert embodies the potential and promise of the Broadway musical.

Duration: two hours and fifteen minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

50 years of Broadway at the Kennedy Center was presented at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Opera House on February 11, 2022 and February 12, 2022. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. Go online for information and tickets to upcoming events by clicking here.

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