Soprano Christiane Noll.
Louisville Orchestra Pops Series
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Featuring Christiane Noll, Capathia Jenkins, Rob Evan and the Floyd Central High School A Cappella Choir
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
As Maestro Bob Bernhardt took the podium last Friday evening, the Louisville Orchestra began the familiar descant from The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (Naa, na na nanana na…), leading into a medley that included The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and “You Can’t Stop The Beat” from the musical Hairspray. This was a small sampling of the kind of music that would entertain us for the rest of the evening.
At the back of the cavernous Whitney Hall stage, an assemblage of excited youth (Floyd Central High School’s a cappella choir, directed by Angela Vaughn Hampton) arose from the risers and began Handel’s familiar “Hallelujah” refrain. Out came our guest artists, each with a Broadway pedigree a mile long, singing “A Brand New Day” from The Wiz. Christiane Noll, Capathia Jenkins and Rob Evan certainly came to entertain. Mr. Evans got the solos of the evening started with the ballad “This Is the Moment” from Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde, a song he has performed over 1000 times. The effect was powerful and moving.
Next was the fun and peppy “Good Morning, Baltimore” from Hairspray, performed by Ms. Noll. She was backed by the singers from Floyd Central, who created a delightful sense of fun and frivolity on stage along with the orchestra musicians.
The trio reunited for a Jersey Boys medley that played to the depths of each performer’s respective range. To be honest, this was not the strongest set of the evening. I found the emulation of Frankie Valli’s high tenor to be a bit beyond what Mr. Evan was ready for, and at times it just sounded uncomfortable.
The same can be said for the 1980s favorite “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler. With altered lyrics, this song was integrated into “Vampires in Love,” a song from Dance of the Vampires, one of Broadway’s larger flops. As Mr. Evan confessed, “I know — I was in it.” He was, in fact, the understudy for this musical’s lead. With the pairing of Mr. Evan and Ms. Noll, the vocal stamina and ability required by the love ballad were certainly there, but it just seemed a tad off to my ear. I enjoyed the orchestration very much.
Disney’s The Lion King is certainly a huge hit, so it was no surprise to hear “Circle of Life.” The capable and entertaining a cappella choir joined the guest artists. While on the whole all the singers did a fantastic job, I noticed that for the most part, the harmonies were restrained.
As Ms. Jenkins was introduced to the stage once again, the audience was warned that she would give new meaning to the term “raising the roof,” and raise it she did. With strong brass accompaniment and a voice capable of singing a wide range of music styles, she embodied Tina Turner and the power with which Ms. Turner is known for singing “Proud Mary.”
The familiar tones of Jesus Christ Superstar, complete with drum kit and guitar, soon yielded to a rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent that made you want to sway back and forth in your seat. Closing out the first act, Ms. Jenkins told us that if we felt compelled, we were invited to “shake what your mama gave you.” With that, she dove into “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” joined by the other vocalists and doing what a good artist does — leaving the audience wanting more.
I think the intermission was good to our artists; they came out sounding rested and vocally stronger. The next intriguing musical blend was a preview of a project that Mr. Evan is working on called Rocktopia. As we assembled once again, the orchestra began with Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (in a different key than the original), which morphed into “Come Sail Away” with a smattering of Strauss. The arrangement of this Styx song featured a fantastic piano solo and woodwinds that sounded almost identical to the synthesizer heard in the original.
Ms. Noll and Ms. Jenkins turned the oft heard “For Good” from Wicked into a striking and balanced duet. Inverting the order of songs in the musical, Ms. Noll followed “For Good” with “Defying Gravity,” delivering a fun and exciting rendition. The quip she made in the latter song’s introduction drew laughs and groans from the audience: “…the song everyone wanted to sing before Frozen.” Ms. Jenkins also gave us a little taste of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” feeding us exquisite attitude from the very first note.
If you are not familiar with Chess, I suggest you give it a listen. Written by the songwriting team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, two of the four erstwhile members of ABBA, Chess is an intelligent and entertaining musical that never got a long run on the Great White Way. Within its score is a stunning piece called “Anthem” that Mr. Evan sang from the heart. The stirring orchestration, played with aplomb, certainly added to the experience.
Speaking of ABBA, the trio enjoyed a little “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” for good measure. Safe vocal harmonies were in evidence once again, perhaps a wise choice in the grand scheme of things.
Now, I will admit, I have not seen Dreamgirls, but I am going to have to after hearing Ms. Jenkins perform “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Oh, my!!! This was a shout-it-from-the-rafters kind of performance, and an absolute showstopper.
As further evidence of the dexterity of voice and abundant talent showcased in this concert, Ms. Noll and Mr. Evan gave us the beautiful duet “The Phantom of the Opera,” complete with Mr. Evan performing as a disembodied voice from the rafters. When he later joined his prey/love on the stage, the chemistry between these two was palpable. I was transported back to the West End of London, where I was lucky enough to see The Phantom of the Opera when it first premiered. I was just as transfixed Friday evening. Ms. Noll’s vocal prowess was on full display as she hit every note, including that very difficult high E-natural. Perfect.
To continue with selections from Phantom, the only word that I can use to describe the performance of “The Music of the Night” from Mr. Evan is Wow!! It was powerful and poignant in all the right spots.
Finally, all of the artists, including the fun young choir, came on stage in their best 1960s garb to finish the evening with “Let the Sunshine In/Aquarius” from Hair.
What a fun evening hearing some of the best and brightest of Broadway and beyond as they performed with the best and brightest musicians of our Louisville Orchestra.
April 22, 2016
Whitney Hall, The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 W Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.