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Review: Don't Cry for OCPAC's MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER (Ends 2/21)

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As musical theater composers go, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has a staggering amount of hits in his repertoire of past shows. THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber, the mini-concert tour now performing through Sunday, February 21 at The Orange County Performing Arts Center, serves as a musical gathering of most of the living legend's greatest hits (and a few not-so-successful, more obscure compositions as well) into a tight two-hour-and-fifteen-minute concert that's less a theater experience than a symphony concert with some amazing singers. Enhanced by a terrific, full on-stage orchestra under the direction of conductor/musical director Edward G. Robinson, six talented Broadway veterans take the audience show by show through Webber's catalogue.

Stripped of storylines, full costumes, ostentatious sets, and choreographed chorus players, the audience is left with just the music. For starters, let's just get this out of the way: Webber is, undoubtedly, a masterful, brilliant composer. Much of his music is memorable not only for its aural beauty and grandiose aspects, but also their lyrical qualities that evoke, without irony, both passion and showmanship. Schmaltzy? Maybe a little... but that doesn't make them any less exceptional.

Admittedly, though not every song in his catalog has been a gem (some have been rightly excluded here), most are truly magnificent—as evidenced by the enthusiastic patrons surrounding this reviewer that decided it was okay to annoyingly hum/sing along to all the familiar songs. They are popularly well-liked for a reason. (For the record: No, m'am, it's never okay for you to sing along. Ever. This audience did not pay you to sing these songs, so please... Please, stop.)

As the brilliant cast of singers tackle show after show—and song after song—throughout the night, the audience gets a bare-bones music concert, which feature shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Evita and, of course, The Phantom of the Opera. By virtue of how this particular show has been conceived—in which the music alone is presented to you with a minimum of fuss—a few things pop up on the surface and become crystal clear.

First, each Webber show is not only iconic, each requires its own, well, icon. Webber's shows are all about its branding, and the familiar logos of every show are the only introductions this audience is going to get between song suites. Granted, it's conceivable to credit Webber for ushering in the era of "the brand(ed) show" (hey, it worked!), but it also shows that the songs themselves are quite good on their own, and that their affiliation to a particular musical seems here a secondary characteristic. Songs like "I Don't Know How to Love Him," "Memory," "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," and "The Music of the Night" are all so tied to their particular shows that, by choosing to be performed without the thrills and frills of the full production they came from, the music stands on their own as the wonderful compositions they are. By the same token, his lesser-known shows also reveal that they had some beautiful stand-alone songs that were great in their own right ("Unexpected Song" and "Love Changes Everything"). And secondly, with one song following another so CLOSELY with not so much as a spoken introduction to break them apart (save for those projected logos, of course), it becomes clear that Webber is also all about the Big. Final. Notes. If the rafters aren't shaking when a song ends, it's not one of his show-stoppers.

The featured sextet of splendid singers—each of whom has appeared on several Broadway shows—brought their wonderful talents to their interpretations. Some of the artists even have prior experience specifically inhabiting the Webber universe, particularly Howard McGillin (he's played the title role of The Phantom of the Opera over 2,500 times on Broadway), Kathy Voytko (she's been Eva Peron in Evita), and Laurie Gayle Stephenson (she's been Christine on The Phantom of the Opera). The remainder of the cast are David Josefsberg (Les Misérables, Grease, Altar Boyz), Deone Zanotto (A Chorus Line, We Will Rock You) and Kevin Kern (Wicked, Les Misérables, 9 to 5 The Musical).

While outstanding throughout the concert, each performer is given a chance to individually shine. Among the standout moments: Kern is excellent with his solo take on "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar; Josefsberg and Zanotto's duet in "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many" (Starlight Express) is a cute moment; Stephenson—a pleasure to the ear all evening—is captivating with her "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" (Evita); Stephenson and Kern's duets are all just gorgeous, and Voytko's version of "You Must Love Me" (a song specifically written for the film version of Evita) is heartbreaking and poignant. And as a fitting penultimate finalé to the ending Phantom suite, McGillin's powerful take on "The Music of the Night" deserved its loud cheers. The hard-working on-stage orchestra is also given their moments in the spotlight by performing solely on a few overtures.

While certainly entertaining, the show is not free from flaws. In addition to a few unfortunate sound and microphone mishaps, the concert—while understandably treated as a songbook revue for quicker pacing—could have used its cast as more than just mere singers. It would have been nice for the actors to speak between songs (or shows, even), to perhaps offer a few contextual anecdotes or explain a bit about the show they're going to sing from—instead of just cycling through one song after another with timed precision. The minimal staging—the actors walk on, sing, then walk off—is a bit cruise-ship-like, and inopportunely squanders taking advantage of the acting skills this talented cast possesses. Though by the show's second act, the actors are given a bit more to play and act with in the form of Webber's blockbusters Sunset Boulevard, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. All these emotionally-charged musicals require a bit more passionate acting during the performances anyway, and the six singers definitely deliver. Even Josefsberg's over-the-top falsetto screams didn't seem out of place here.

Otherwise, THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber makes for a nice, entertaining evening. A concert of these many hits from one composer is not only eye-opening, it also provides an impressive outlet for six extremely talented Broadway singers. Those waiting for a falling chandelier or leaping, singing kittens, however, might be a tad disappointed.

Grade: B

Related Article: BWW Interviews: Actor Kevin Kern.

Photos from the Kennedy Center production by Scott Suchman. Top: Laurie Gayle Stephenson.
Middle: An iconic logo for an iconic show. Bottom: David Josefsberg.

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THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber continues through Sunday, February 21. Tickets start at $20 and are available online at OCPAC.org, at the Center’s Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling 714.556.2787. For inquiries about group ticket discounts for 15 or more, call the Group Services office at 714.755.0236. The TTY number is 714.556.2746. The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, February 20 will be sign-language interpreted.

For more information, visit OCPAC.org.


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