Sutton Foster w/ the Utah Symphony July 21, 2018 Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater Deer Valley

Sutton Foster was a surprise addition to this year’s Deer Valley Music Festival lineup.  This date was initially booked for Kristin Chenoweth. But it was reported that she was having neck issues and was needing surgery so she would have to cancel her scheduled summer performances.  Sutton was booked to fill the slot. Not a bad replacement I’d say. I asked a couple next to me if they had bought tickets for this event when Kristin was scheduled, or if they bought tickets specifically to see Sutton.  They told me that they had originally purchased tickets when Kristin Chenoweth was scheduled, but when they saw Sutton Foster was her replacement, they were more than excited. They said, “You can’t go wrong! Sure they’re different performers, but they’re amazing in their own way.  We would not have missed this show for anything. We love Sutton!”. That seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment from the others I spoke to.

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Audra McDonald March 23, 2018 Salt Lake City Abravanell Hall

I first had the privilege of seeing Audra McDonald about twenty years ago when she originated the role of “Sarah” in the musical Ragtime. And while she was brilliant in the role it wasn’t until four years later that I understood her true brilliance, when I saw her sing the songs of Gershwin at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Southern California.  It was there that I realized that not only is her voice fantastic, but there is just so much more to her concert than just that amazing range. So when I discovered that she would be playing two nights with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, I knew I had to be there.  

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Jeff & Larry’s Backyard BBQ with Eddie Money Friday August 18, 2017 USANA Amphitheater

It’s a hot night in the middle of August.  Seems like a perfect night for a barbeque!  

Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy hosted their Backyard BBQ at USANA Amphitheater Friday night.  And they brought some guests with them.  

The show opened with the evening’s’ emcee, comedian Nick Hoff taking the stage.  I thought he got a really good response from the audience during his set.  It seems like it would be really hard to get a crowd to engage with you right at the beginning of the night with the sun still setting and people just getting to their seats.  But he was good, and the audience seemed to really enjoy him. He had the right personality for it, and that was to his benefit when it came to his emceeing duties as well.  

Nick then introduced the first band of the evening.  A local band out of Cottonwood Heights, Saylo.  I enjoyed them.  I thought they were a really solid band.  The only thing I would say is their sound didn’t really fit the theme of the evening.  They didn’t scream, comedy, barbeque, or blue collar.  I thought they would have been better suited at the upcoming Love Loud festival, or maybe the Twilight Concert Series.  That being said, if I was invited to play for thousands of people at USANA Amphitheater, fit the theme or not, I would have accepted the invite too!  I thought they did a good job all things considered.  

Jeff Foxworthy was next.  I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see him so early in the evening.  It was a surprise when he was introduced, but I was excited to listen to him.  It’s an interesting transition to go from a band to a comedian, but I thought the change was pretty smooth.  The audience, of course, roared when Jeff took the stage.  

Now, because the material in stand up comedy is very specific and repeated in every town, I don’t want to share the jokes/ stories that were told.  I wouldn’t want to spoil that for someone who wants to see Jeff or Larry down the road.  Let me just say this, if you have enjoyed Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy in the past, then you’ll love this material as well.  While he is known for his “You might be a redneck…” line of jokes, he steered clear of being pigeon holed and branched out with hilarious stories and jokes.  Of course, they were generally centered around a blue collar theme.  Jeff was great, and the audience showed their approval throughout his set.  

Larry the Cable Guy was next to take the stage.  It’s interesting how fame works.  Some years back, Larry was the first to take the stage in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and now he’s the headlining comedian.  His material and persona (His real name is Dan Whitney.  Larry the Cable Guy is a character he created for the stage) are so locked in that he makes you believe that he’s really that guy on and off stage.  I think it’s genius the way he “dumbs down” his act.  It seems so simple, yet it’s so clever.  I thought he was hilarious.  

The most surprising thing to me was the order that the talent appeared.  After Larry left the stage, Eddie Money was introduced and he closed the show.  I did not expect this.  I don’t know if it was the best idea either.  Those who came specifically to see Jeff and Larry left the amphitheater during Eddie Money’s set.  I never like when people don’t stay for the whole show, but I suppose they saw what they came to see, so they felt no reason to stay.  

I thought those who did remain for the show’s entirety really enjoyed Eddie’s performance. Money shared with the audience that he was recording the show.  He mentioned that he wanted his family to be able to hear the performance.  Eddie played all of his hits like, “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight”.  I wish more had stayed, but it was still a fun way to end the night.  

I thought the atmosphere was great.  People seemed to be having a great time either laughing or rocking out.  There were barbeque options throughout the amphitheater concourse as well as fun games that you might find at a family BBQ.  It was an excellent way to spend a summer evening!

Idina Menzel UCCU Center October 1, 2015 Orem Utah

Idina

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!

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Alfie Boe March 14, 2015 UCCU Center, Orem Utah

Alfie

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.

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Brian Stokes Mitchell – Abravanel Hall November 2, 2013

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
GERSHWIN *Medly*

Intermission

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

Encore
THEILE & WEISS “What a Wonderful World”