As the song from Grease goes, “Summer sun, something’s begun, but uh-oh those summer nights.” While many in Washington, DC melted under the record two-week heat wave, some of us thought it’d be a good idea to spend some time outdoors at Washington, DC’s famous outdoor Amphitheater, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.
Last week I spent an evening an with conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), and some Broadway stars as they rocked the house in Broadway Rocks.
The show featured the vocal talents of Morgan James (Godspell, The Adams Family), Lakisha Jones (Season 4 American Idol Finalist), Rob Evan (Jekyll and Hyde: The Concert) and Doug LaBrecque (The Phantom of the Opera).
While some of the group performances did not entirely work, each performer had his or her individual moments to shine. That’s when the audience had a chance to really experience these talented singers as they showcased their talent.
Morgan James did a beautiful version of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked and an amazing job with the difficult, signature title number from Phantom of the Opera. Her high note was flawless and Doug LaBrecque had a chance to showcase his baritone.
LaBrecque’s rendition of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” was technically strong; however his voice lacked the passion the material requires. It seemed like he was going through the motions. He came alive during his rousing take on the classic “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera.
The only one who seemed to have understood that rock and roll is supposed to be fun was former Trans-Siberian Orchestra member Rob Evan, who showed some personality and joked with the crowd. He came onto the stage and literally shook things up, leading the group performance of “Twist and Shout” and “Hey Jude” and sang a very beautiful version of “Come Sail Away” – the only time the NSO really played with the arrangement of a song.
LaKisha Jones’s powerful vocals brought the house down. She and Evan had everyone on their feet during an amazing duet of “Proud Mary.” Evan with the deep base and Jones with her great vocals. Later she does a pitch perfect rendition of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.”
Fleischer’s musical arrangements were good, but they didn’t do anything that stretched the envelope or gave the singers the opportunity to, as Randy Jackson would say, “own” a song. It is rock and roll man, you are supposed to be daring and have fun. That was noticeably lacking from the evening. Everything was just too technically “good.”
The NSO does a fantastic job of using popular culture to expose the younger generation to the idea of attending more cultural events like symphony performances. On July 14th they are going to perform the entire score of The Wizard of Oz (with the movie projected on the big screen) and on the 26th they are going to do an evening with music from the Zelda Games.
For more information about Wolf Trap, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the full summer schedule please visit their website at wolftrap.org.
Article first published as Concert Review (Washington DC): National Symphony Orchestra’s Broadway Rocks at Wolf Trap, July 6 2012 on Blogcritics.