BWW Reviews: Il Divo's Masterful MUSICAL AFFAIR Garners Enthusiastic Ovations in Providence
The acclaimed pop/opera quartet Il Divo is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Il Divo was founded by Simon Cowell as a "classical crossover" group and, over the course of the last decade, Cowell's instincts about his protégés proved spot on. Since 2004, Il Divo has recorded eight albums, staged four world tours, collected an impressive array of accolades, and amassed a myriad of adoring fans from around the globe.
Il Divo's Urs Bühler, Sebastien Izambard, Carlos Marin, and David Miller joined with Broadway and West End superstar Lea Salonga to bring A Musical Affair to the Providence Performing Arts Center. The Providence show marked the final stop on Il Divo's North American tour (the performers will enjoy a summertime hiatus before setting out again in September) and, rather fittingly, this "love letter" to musical theater graced PPAC's stage on the evening before the 2014 TONY Awards.
A Musical Affair is well-suited to Il Divo's sweeping style; the arrangements blend Bühler, Marin, and Miller's operatic talents with Izambard's fine pop vocals, and the set list for the tour hits all the right notes. Performances feature readily-recognizable tunes (some with lyrics translated into French, Spanish, or Italian) from many beloved musical theater titles: "Tonight" and "Somewhere" from West Side Story, "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot, and "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha, to name only a few. The quartet also sings "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love as a special thank you for their fans; a scrapbook of photographs from stage door autograph sessions and impromptu meet-and-greets rolls overhead through the entire number.
Il Divo collaborated with Salonga on several outstanding showpieces, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory" (Cats) and "Music of the Night" (The Phantom of the Opera), as well as a charming five-person take on "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin. Salonga performed Princess Jasmine's singing voice in the 1992 animated feature, and she delightedly announced that the newly-opened Broadway stage production of Aladdin garnered five 2014 TONY Award nominations.
Salonga - a powerhouse vocalist - had ample opportunity to shine in PPAC's spotlight. In addition to sharing several numbers with Il Divo, she also wowed the Providence audience with her solo performances of "Defying Gravity" from Wicked and "Back to Before" from Ragtime. One song paid homage to two of her most well-known roles: Fantine and Cosette from LES MISERABLES. The piece, beautifully arranged by Salonga's brother, seamlessly and powerfully blended "I Dreamed a Dream" together with "On My Own."
The singers were backed by an impressive orchestra, led by conductor Simon Chalk and musical director Andrew Smalls. Their overture of musical theater melodies opened the show with great energy, and there was not a note played out of place through the entire production. The orchestra's seating was sectioned off, split in half by the tour's one major set piece, a short flight of stairs that leads up to a multi-paneled projection screen. Tour designer Brian Burke made smart use of the screen, pairing complementary-but-unobtrusive animations with every song, and lighting designers Joshua Hutchings and Dan Tiley used the spots to subtly enhance the mood of each piece. The ribbons of blue, white and red illumination that accompanied "Bring Him Home" from LES MISERABLES were especially effective.
Above and beyond their self-referential banter, Bühler, Izambard, Marin, and Miller have a great rapport, and their easy camaraderie on stage extends to their partnership with Salonga. The men clearly respect her as an artist, but there is a teasing playfulness (not to mention a few entertaining hijinks) in their interactions as well. The performers' mid-act "farewell" group hug - whether it was in fact impromptu or choreographed ahead of time - seemed heartfelt and truly unaffected.
Superlatives surround Il Divo - and the superlatives are fittingly bestowed. The members of Il Divo know how to charm an audience, yet the tried-and-true core of the quartet's enduring success lies in the remarkable talents of the group's four vocalists - show-stopping musical skills that stand on their own merits. Combined with the artistic genius of Lea Salonga, A Musical Affair lives up to its promise and brings impressed and appreciative audience members enthusiastically to their feet.
Il Divo: A Musical Affair played the Providence Performing Arts Center for one night only, Saturday, June 7, 2014. For information about Il Divo and Lea Salonga, and for a schedule of the Fall 2014 leg of the A Musical Affair tour, please visit www.ildivo.com or www.leasalonga.com.
Photo courtesy Live Nation