Screen grab from circlebrightproductions.com
The good news is the show was stellar. The bad news is you will have to wait until next time to see something like this.
Normally something we in Metro Vancouver can only watch longingly on television from Britain or occasionally on PBS, Broadway music in concert, has come to Richmond. It is all the more thrilling live.
Thanks to a new impresario, Circle BrightProductions, we were treated to the finest hits from a host of musicals.
From Broadway with Lovepresented four shows over three days at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre April 26 to 28.
This show is remarkable on two fronts: One, the quality and two, as a unifying force.
Not only were these performances highly professional, they were cultural bridges. I have never been to a performance with such a mix of Mandarin and English-speaking theatre-goers. The ages too ran the gamut from teens to elderly.
The orchestra, under musical director Christopher King, started strong and stayed that way throughout. On stage, visible as wisps behind a translucent curtain throughout much of the performance, they and the chorus from Capilano University, supported the soloists with skill. Unfortunately, the orchestra was often too loud so the individual singers’ voices were either drowned out a little, or when the audio crew did a star mix to make the soloist more prominent, the volume meant reverberation inside the listener’s ears.
The show opened with All that Jazz from Chicago. It was stunning. Anna Kuman sang and danced her way through the number, enhancing what was already a hot number.
Unlike most other concerts, where late-comers are not seated during the performance, people were coming in during that and other numbers, shuffling into their seats and occasionally discussing what they watched in louder than usual voices.
Tessa Trach’s gentle song, "On My Own", from Les Miserables, was done with the skill you’d expect to hear on the London or New York stage. Sadly, the volume wasn’t gentle.
The next number, “Falling Slowly” from Once,sung simply by Brandyn Eddy and Lindsay Warnock accompanying themselves on guitar and piano was new to me. It made me want to see the musical. The piano player was hidden by other orchestra members. These are growing pains, often sorted out in second productions.
A stand-out number for the evening was from Jersey Boys. It started with verve. The harmonies and timing were razor-sharp. It elicited loud applause and cheering.
Another late-comer, seated directly in front of me with a large hat on her head, highlighted what a fine venue Gateway Theatre is. The rake is perfect. Not too steep to be dangerous to descend the stairs but steep enough that the person in front cannot obscure the view.
In “All I ask of You,” from Phantom of the Opera Kevin Armstrong and Jocelyn Gauthier were the perfect volume though a little overpowered by the strong orchestra. The Gautheir was high, sweet and clear, weaving well with the Armstrong’s rich voice.
Madeleine Suddaby’s, “Life of the Party” stood out as exceptional in an outstanding group. The voice-like quality of the saxophone enhanced the sound. The loud cheers at the end of the number showed the audience concurred.
In introducing the next number, the host pointed out that Sondheim was 27 when he wrote the famous lyrics to Bernstein’s version of Romeo and Juliet. While the horns’ tuning was a little crunchy, the ensemble made West Side Story medley sound easy to sing. It’s not.
Scott Perrie’s version of the best known song from The Book of Mormon, “I believe,” is a masterpiece of singing and writing, each verse starting out sounding heart-warming, something we could all support, then supplying the zinger just before the chorus. A testament to the writing skills of the team that brought us South Park.
The rousing emsemble number from Les Miserables, “Do You Hear the People Sing,” featured strong male soloists and a vibrant chorus. The diction, on this group number, was spot-on. The passion shone through.
Dear Evan Hansen is not a musical I knew. After hearing Brandyn Eddy sing “Waving Through A Window,” it’s on my bucket list. The cello backing the number, and throughout the evening, unobtrusively added rich caramel notes.
Tessa Trach’s and ensemble’s “On My Way,” sent us all off to intermission in a great mood.
We came back to another strong ensemble number, “Seasons of Love,” the best known song from Rent. With 11 people singing, it was crystal clear, not an easy thing to achieve. But, these singers are pros and it shows particularly in the female soloist who was reminiscent of young Judy Garland. Her high notes received cheers before the song ended.
“Defying Gravity,” from Wicked was so loud it was hard to make out the words but was skillfully performed by Kimmy Choi.
In “Louder than Words” from the musical Tick, Tick Boom, Brandyn Eddy, Jocelyn Gauthier, and Jeffrey Stephen performed with finesse. The selection showed what good writing is with phrases like “Louder than words” and “Cages or wings, which do you prefer?”
In “She used to be mine” great singing once again came to the fore with Jenn Suratos’s singing.
“Heart and Music” from the musical A New Brain showcased the strengths of the ensemble, offering sweet harmonies that were spot on.
The fun of “Horton Hears a Who” from Seussical the Musical was pure joy.
“So Much Better” from Legally Blonde once again showcased Jocelyn Gauthier’s talent.
It’s another musical to add to my must-see list.
“I will never Leave you,” as sung by Jenn Suratos and Kimmy Choi, was strong and clear. It would make a good wedding song, and a great change from some of the same old same old.
Anna Kuman’s pensive version of “What I did for love” from A Chorus Line tugged at the heart-strings.
The Bridges of Madison County is a movie and book I knew but not the musical version. In “It all fades away but you” the accompanying mandolin add a sweet tremor to Jeffrey Stephen’s strong performance. With good orchestration and Stephen’s singing it all added up to something outstanding.
Hairspray, a musical that on the surface seems all bubble gum and bobby socks looks at teens standing up to racial bigotry on a pop music show. In Circle Bright’s production, Madeleine Suddaby, Kevin Armstrong and the ensemble turned “Welcome to the Sixties” into something utterly spectacular, something you would expect to see on the New York or London stage.
The closing number was delicate. “You will be found” offered the ensemble another chance to shine. In the closing notes, the audience jumped to its feet, clapping.
Part of the reason one goes to live theatre is for the shared experience–what the performers share and an evening shared with others in the audience. This was truly a time when Richmond people, all kinds of Richmond people, came out to share an experience together on the same level. A time transcending language and culture, when we all understood, the music of Broadway. Kudos to Circle Bright Productions. The public is invited to send their suggestions and preferences for a future concert to the producers.
My only question is, how soon can we get tickets to your next show?