Quick! Name the first ten Broadway stars that come to your mind! Ok, the first five! Eh, how about one? Now for you theater lovers, that may have been a fairly simple task, but for you others out there, you blew it! And you’re missing out on some pretty fantastic voices. Anyway, even if you’re not a fan of musical theater, you may recognize the name Idina Menzel. And even if that name doesn’t yet ring a bell, you’ll surely recognize her first professional job as one of the stars of arguably the biggest musical of the 90’s, the award winning musical “Rent”, where she was nominated for a Tony Award portraying the role of Maureen. Unfamiliar with that show? Well, first off, I just feel sorry for you, but perhaps you’ll recognize Idina from the unquestioned biggest musical of the 2000’s, “Wicked”, where she won a Tony Award for portraying the role of Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West. And if you still don’t know her, then there is no doubt that you’ll recognize her as the voice of Elsa in the humungous Disney animated feature film “Frozen”, singing the Academy Award winning song “Let it Go”. So, if you still aren’t familiar, one, you’ve been living in the wilderness somewhere with no contact to the world, and two, I’m sure you can at least see for the past 25 years she has been busy being featured in one successful endeavour after another. And here she was right of front of me in Orem, Utah of all places!
Alfie Boe is Tony Award winner, and known throughout the world for playing the lead role of Jean Valjean in the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena in London. And while the latter event brought him into the spotlight for the mainstream world, many have known him and loved him for years. And there he was, in our own back yard, on March 14, at the UCCU center in Orem, Utah. Word on the street is Alfie is married to a native Utanian, and because of this he lives in Salt Lake City for part of the year. Because of this, we here in Utah have the benefit of getting to see and hear him in person, where otherwise we might not be so fortunate.
Brian Stokes Mitchell has been dubbed by the New York Times as “Broadway’s last leading man.” After seeing him on November 2, 2013 at Abravenal Hall, this is a difficult thing to deny. I had the opportunity to see Brian Stokes Mitchell in Ragtime in its pre-Broadway run in Los Angeles and I knew there that I was seeing a Legend in the making. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing BSM in his Tony nominated performance in The Man of La Manchia. Now, I have seen a countless number of musicals in my day, with many a Broadway legend. But only once have I seen a show stopping number actually stop the show. This was following Mr. Mitchell’s powerful rendition of “The Impossible Dream”. For at least two minutes straight, the audience stood and applauded while BSM stood there frozen in character. If two minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, clap for two minutes straight and you’ll get an understanding of how long that is and how special that moment was. I was also able to see Brian Stokes Mitchell perform as Javert in the All-Star cast performance of Les Misérables at the Hollywood Bowl. But seeing Brian in his own solo show was truly the ultimate proof that he is “Broadway’s last leading man”.
I had only been to Abravenal Hall once, and it was to see a Warren Miller ski movie. Now while I enjoyed the film, it was nice to experience this great orchestral hall in the way it was intended. The acoustics in Abravenal were amazing. I think Brian might have been able to perform without a microphone and everyone would have been able to hear him just fine. In my opinion, Abravenal Hall truly is the finest of Utah’s performance theaters.
The concert began with the Utah Symphony performing a medley from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. While the Utah Symphony was masterfully conducted by Jerry Steichen, I could sense an eager anticipation for the arrival of Mr. Brian Stokes Mitchell. The moment finally arrived and Conductor Steichen introduced Brian as the audience applauded with a smattering of people even rising to their feet. Brian opened the show with the Broadway classic “Some Enchanted Evening” from the Rogers & Hammerstein smash hit South Pacific. And things really took off from there. Now I don’t intend to review this show song by song, you can look at the set list below to understand how amazing this night really was.
What I do want to mention is how well Brian knows his audience. He did several songs in character, but most of the songs he sang as himself. He told stories of why he was doing a particular number, or how he was given the opportunity to perform of some of his most famous roles. He sang some of Broadway’s greatest songs as well as songs most people might not have heard of. He really put together a great mix of songs to keep the audience on a constant high. He was passionate about the songs he was singing, he was moving in his stories, as well as humorous. He was gracious to the audience and mentioned several times how much he has loved performing in Utah over the years.
There were four particular highlights for me. The third song of the night was “Stars” from Brittan’s longest running musical Les Misérables. Brian’s posturing, and powerful voice put me right into the center of that musical, and I could see Javert the determined police officer desperate to seek out Jean Valjean, the man who broke his parole many years ago. Several audience members rose to their feet at the end of this number.
Another was a song written by Maury Yeston known mainly from his musicals Nine and Titanic called “New Words”. The song depicts a father teaching his son a new word each day. I have never heard this song before, but while BSM was acting out the song, I felt as if his own son was right there listening to his dad. It was a simple song with a powerful message, and beautifully performed.
Towards the end of the show, Brian spoke about two songs he’d be doing together. He talked about how the country had fallen upon hard times and how sometimes the “American Dream” can seem lost. But that it’s always important to have hope. He then sang an acapella rendition of “America the Beautiful”. Brian’s voice echoed through the hall in a way that only his voice can. As I mentioned the acoustics in Abravanel Hall are fantastic. In our day and age there is something to be said about captivating an audience. No one spoke, no phone was heard. All eyes and ears were on Brian as his voice spread thought the venue. It was a moving moment. As the song began to end, the Orchestra began their intro to “Wheels of a Dream”, on of Brian’s most notable songs from Ragtime. The commanding performance of these songs together left the audience moved to tears as well as enthusiasm. When he was finished the crowed rushed to their feet.
Finally, the song I had personally been waiting for. “The Impossible Dream” from Man of LaManchia is one of my favorite songs, and Brian Stokes Mitchell’s version is by far the best that has been done. It is no surprise that he did not disappoint. He sang each word with the meaning these lyrics deserve. The audience was inspired and again a standing ovation was in order.
The show ended with Brian coming back and singing the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World”. This set the perfect mood to send the audience home hopeful and peaceful after a great night of music.
If you have never seen Brian Stokes Mitchell live, I highly recommend you put him on your list of people to see. Sometimes performers just go out and do their job. Perform. But Brian Stokes Mitchell makes his concert and experience. He appreciates his audience and he understands the honor it is to be a performer.
Brian Stokes Mitchell Setlist
PORTER Kiss Me, Kate- Orchestra
ROGERS & HAMMERSTEIN “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific
LERNER/LOWE “How to Handle a Woman” from Camelot
BOUBIL & SHONBERG “Stars” from Les Miserables
FLAHERTY “I Was There” from The Glorious Ones
ROGERS & HAMMERSTEIN “This Was Nearly Mine” from South Pacific
FLAHERTY Selections from “Ragtime”- Orchestra
STYNE “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl
SONDHEIM/STRAYHORN “Another Hundred People/Take the ‘A’ Train”
JOBIM “Waters of March”
GERSHWIN “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess
YESTON “New Words”
WARD “America the Beautiful” accapella from Ragtime
FLAHERTY“The Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime
LEIGH “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha
THEILE & WEISS “What a Wonderful World”