It’s no surprise that Broadway musicals continue to thrill and delight tens of millions of theater goers around the world each year. And it was no surprise that two great American musical organizations joined forces in Hartford, Connecticut to celebrate 70 years of Tony Award-winning music in one grand night of singing on February 20th.
The concert was presented by the renowned Goodspeed Musicals, Hartford Symphony Orchestra
and Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. This outstanding partnership featured four rising Broadway star performers, acclaimed guest conductor Michael O’Flaherty and sixteen talented and well-trained students from The Hartt School of Musical Theatre class of 2016.
All the organizations and individual artists who participated in this special anniversary concert deserve a well-earned moment in the spotlight: The two-time Tony Award-winning Goodspeed Musicals of East Haddam, CT launched the internationally acclaimed Annie and Man of La Mancha, as well as nineteen other Broadway-bound musicals. Shows sent to Broadway have collectively won 13 Tony Awards and 33 nominations. These achievements are a few of many reasons the magnificent 1878 Goodspeed Opera House enjoys the well-earned national reputation as “Home of the American Musical.” www.goodpeed.org
The award-winning Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Hartford, Connecticut is the second largest orchestra in New England and is widely recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras. It’s equally acclaimed home, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, (www.bushnell.org) has a stately Georgian Revival exterior and the interior is one of the world’s greatest examples of the Art Deco style. www.hartfordsymphony.org
The tuneful Best of Broadway celebration included songs from Tony Award-winning musicals. On the program were selections from Guys and Dolls; Ain’t Misbehavin’; Hello, Dolly!; Spamalot; My Fair Lady; The Wiz; South Pacific; A Chorus Line; Company; A Gentleman’s Guide; and Les Misérables as well as other audience favorites.
The featured artists have all performed in past Goodspeed productions and have theater credits from Broadway and around the country. The guest conductor of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra was Michael O’Flaherty, who is celebrating his 25th year as Resident Music Director for Goodspeed Musicals. (He and his team always make a handful of Goodspeed musicians sound as though it’s a big Broadway orchestra.) William J. Thomas was featured pianist throughout the evening.
After a charming and witty introduction of the evening’s program by a singing Michael O’Flaherty and the Hartt singers doing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” the orchestra opened with a stunningly melodic “Overture from South Pacific.” The sounds of swaying palm tress and the Pacific Ocean’s waves were rapturously brought to life by some of the best musicians in the country. The soaring string section would have made Richard Rodgers weep with joy.
First up on the featured performance roster was charming Conor Ryan, who sang, with comic skill, “What Do I Need With Love” from Thoroughly Modern Millie, and his appeal was instantaneous. Later in the evening he movingly interpreted Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company, and with his star-presence and magnificent voice hitting the final booming note there were very few dry eyes in the house. Conor’s performance as Jean-Michel in Goodspeed’s critically acclaimed production of La Cage aux Folles delighted Goodspeed Opera House audiences this past summer. He starred (with a rave review from the New York Times critic Ben Brantley) opposite Tony-winner Kate Baldwin in the Off-Broadway revival of John and Jen, and performed in Broadway’s Cinderella.
Gifted Gizel Jiménez brought down the house with her renditions of “Home” from The Wiz and in the sultry Sally Bowles number “Cabaret.” She’s remembered for wowing audiences with her arresting performance as Caroline at Goodspeed’s Terris Theater in The Theory of Relativity last spring. Gizel ‘s credits include Rosalia in the National Tour of West Side Story, and she had a guest star role on “Law and Order SVU” Next month, Gizel will be taking on the role of Princess Anna in Disney’s Frozen at the Hyperion Theater in Anaheim, CA. This is a charismatic and talented Broadway Baby to watch!
Tony Sheldon is a multi-award-winning actor whose unforgettable portrayal of Horace Vandergelder in Goodspeed Musicals’ Hello, Dolly! earned him the Connecticut Critics’ Circle Award for Best Actor. Sheldon played the role of Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for 1750 performances in Australia, New Zealand, London, Toronto and on Broadway, winning the Theatre World Award and a nomination for the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical. With the Hartford Symphony backing him all the way he brought zany wit to The Music Man’s “Seventy Six Trombones” as he marched in step from one end of the stage to the other while leading both the show’s invisible boy’s band and the very real symphony orchestra simultaneously. In the second act, his My Fair Lady song “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” was both done with both poignancy and humor – the sign of a gifted actor/singer who understands every nuance in the lyric.
Glamorous Laurie Wells, in a gorgeous blue gown and bejeweled with magnificent earrings, filled the stage with her captivating aura that thrilled the assemblage with her “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard. Her duet with Conor Ryan, “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot, showed that Ms. Wells could madly make fun of musical divas and divos in this never – ending anthem spoofing the Andrew Lloyd Weber songbook. The combination of the brilliant voices of Laurie and Conor gives one hope that they’ll be starring together many times in future productions.
Laurie made us cheer in Goodspeed Musicals’ City of Angels in the dual role of Bobbi/Gabby and in the iconic role of Dorothy in 42nd Street. In 2014 she appeared in Sing For Your Shakespeare at Westport Country Playhouse. On Broadway and again with the National Tour Company she performed as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! Currently she can be seen starring in Trip of Love, a journey through the 60’s with song and dance at Stage 42 in NYC.
Spotlighted throughout the evening were the talented future stars of Broadway – the Hartt School senior class. They weren’t individually introduced, but as ensemble and often in groups of two or three, these up-and-comers really lit up the stage with their renditions of Frank Loesser’s “Fugue for Tinhorns,” a stunning trio of young women singing “At the Ballet,” another trio and chorus doing“ The People’s Song,” and the full ensemble doing “The Telephone Song” from Goodspeed’s upcoming Bye, Bye Birdie….as well as occasionally accompanying the four outstanding featured performers on several numbers. harttweb.hartford.edu.
At one point in the evening, conductor O’Flaherty asked the audience to acknowledge that the orchestra has just survived some hard financial times, and how the dedicated musicians saved the orchestra. The audience stood and cheered for the musicians and the applause and vocal whoops went on and on, much to the pleasure of the members.
Broadway hits were played throughout the evening by this exceptional orchestra. The manic “Waiter’s Gallop” from Hello, Dolly! and “Night Waltz” from A Little Night Music was all the evidence that anyone needed to recognize the world-class artistic excellence of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
For anyone who loves great musical theater and orchestral music in many idioms both of these organizations are offering 2016 seasons to be savored. Just click on the websites above and call the box offices or go online to reserve your own season or individual seats for the ultimate best in music and other theatrical entertainment.