Report: Chenoweth and O'Hara in Oklahoma City!
Posted by Tirso de Molina 2007-03-31 01:37:56.0

Greetings to all --

For once, on a Friday evening I was as happy to be currently living in Oklahoma as I would have been to be living back home in New York: I'm just back from the gala concert in Oklahoma City honoring Oklahoma City University voice professor Florence Birdwell, and featuring some of her star students over the years, including Lara Teeter (has it really been 25 years since I saw his Tony-nominated performance in ON YOUR TOES?!), John Sawyer, Kelli O'Hara, and Kristin Chenoweth (who famously thanked Birdwell during her Tony acceptance speech). This concert, with the performers accompanied by music director Brian Tidwell at the piano and by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic under Joel Levine, was a fitting tribute to Florence Birdwell's career, as well as offering Oklahoma City audiences a chance to see some great artists offering a master class in star quality.

The concert opened with a song written for the occasion by Birdwell's student Rick McKee and sung by a chorus of her current voice students. After that Lara Teeter took over, showing off his song and dance talents with an occasional version of "Once in Love with Amy" to honor Birdwell ("Once in Love with Florence"), and then doing a very solid "Buddy's Blues" from FOLLIES. He was followed by Barbara DeMaio Caprilli, whose career has been in opera but who might have had major success in theater: after singing two of Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs and Eboli's aria "O don fatale" from Verdi's DON CARLO, Caprilli revelled in the chance to belt with a really exciting "Some People" from GYPSY -- based on that performance, I'd have no hesitation in paying to see her Mama Rose. After Caprilli came John Sawyer (WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, THE CIVIL WAR), who has a pleasant enough voice and a lot of stage charisma: he did "Somwhere in My Mem'ry" and "Singin' in the Rain," clearly having fun with the latter.

To close the first half, Kelli O'Hara offered three numbers: a "Light in the Piazza" that showed why the role of Clara fit her voice like a glove, a lovely "Take Me to the World" from Sondheim's EVENING PRIMROSE, and then, fresh from her turn as Eliza Doolittle, "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- this was rich-voiced singing at its most satisfying, absolutely centered and technically secure.

After intermssion, O'Hara returned with two more songs: "Somebody, Somewhere" from THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, and then in a dazzling show of her range for people who had only seen her play more wholesome roles, a sultry, steamy "Call from the Vatican" from NINE (though without being lowered from the flies a la Jane Krakowski!).

After O'Hara, Florence Birdwell was honored with the formal dedication/presentation of the newly endowed chair named after her in the OCU theater department, and then came Chenoweth's stunning star turn. She began with "The Girl in 14G," which showcased both her comic gifts and her formidable vocal resources. She offered a very funny but also moving tribute to Birdwell, relating how Birdwell had told her she needed to learn to "sing from her vagina"! Chenoweth's response: "I've never even seen it, and I certainly don't want to sing out of it!" Chenoweth then did a medley of Kern songs, including "Bill", and followed that with a touching, soft-grained "What Makes Me Love Him" from THE APPLE TREE. Her grand finale, with the full orchestra behind her, was of course "Glitter and Be Gay," which was nothing short of a tour de force of both comic delivery (she even had a case of jewelry for props!) and flawless vocalism -- she hit that one right out of the proverbial ballpark, stopping the show with an instant standing ovation.

The concert concluded with the soloists joining forces for "Flair" from STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW, then having Birdwell herself join them onstage and make a short speech. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all to Birdwell was the fact that these former students were so willing to donate their time and talents to honor her at the gala.

re: Report: Chenoweth and O'Hara in Oklahoma City!
Posted by AngusN 2007-03-31 04:12:47.0

Wow, what an evening. Two of my favourite vocalists ever: Kristin and Kelli. It sounds like a superb evening. Thank you for sharing it with us. I'm certain you won't forget about it in a hurry.
What an amazing talent Florence Birdwell must be, to have nurtured two of Broadway's most talented leading ladies.