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BWW Review: A BROADWAY CELEBRATION Brings the Music Back at Heinz Field

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Pittsburgh CLO's 75th anniversary gala concert shines under the stars

BWW Review: A BROADWAY CELEBRATION Brings the Music Back at Heinz Field And, we're back, people. Theatre is back. Broadway is back. COVID is back- wait, let's not talk about that one today. For now, let's focus on the good, and Pittsburgh CLO's A Broadway Celebration, held in honor of their 75th anniversary, is good through and through.

Staged on the Pittsburgh Ballet's mobile stage, positioned on the playing field at football stadium Heinz Field, the concert features Broadway stars who have worked at the CLO over the past decades. Most are well-known theatrical names like Max von Essen and Jackie Burns. A few are living legends, like Norm Lewis and Patrick Cassidy. And at least one is Pittsburgh's newest rising star, Joe Serafini of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Together, they make ninety minutes of beautiful music.

The whole evening is hosted and emceed by Clay Aiken, a local favorite after his turn in Grease as Liberace, er, Teen Angel. Aiken and a small chorus of CLO singers and dancers begin the evening with a tuneful original song about the CLO's origins, written and composed by Jason Coll. From there, it's a pleasantly fast-paced journey through a hundred years of musical theatre with stops in operetta, rock and roll, hip-hop and plenty of jazz. Early on, Max von Essen and the male ensemble start off strong with the Gaston-esque "Drinking Song" from The Student Prince, followed by a jump ahead of over 100 years to Joshua Grosso's take on Usnavi from In the Heights.

And then, the main event. Norm Lewis possesses probably the best living voice on Broadway. I'd go so far as to call him the most gifted and elastic interpreter of theatrical and popular song since Johnny Mathis; Lewis's range alone is unparallelled from basso profundo to thrilling, soulful tenor. When Lewis takes on "Being Alive" from Company, everyone in the audience falls in love. He's that good. Not only that, but he did it again at the close of the show, singing "The Impossible Dream" as the penultimate number of the night. There are plenty of moments of beauty, excitement or just pure fun that follow (the audience went nuts when Serafini, unsupported by the rest of the ensemble, busted out the famously goofy choreography to "We're All in This Together"), but the evening belongs to Norm Lewis, first last and always.

If anybody came close, it wasn't with vocal pyrotechnics or thrilling high and low notes. Local boy Patrick Cassidy, son of Shirley Jones and sibling of David and Patrick Cassidy, got a solid twenty-minute chunk of the evening to essentially do his own one-man show. Telling stories of growing up with Jones and working with legends like Robert Preston and Dick Van Dyke, Cassidy has a warm, avuncular presence and a great storytelling ability. His spirited "Trouble" and warmly melodic "'Til There Was You," the latter sung with Ali Ewoldt, are fitting tributes to his mother's famous work in The Music Man. (Although for me, it's hard to hear anyone other than Paul McCartney sing that one.)

Will we be back indoors, doing business as usual, by next summer's theatrical season? Here's hoping. But at the same time, it would be a shame to lose the al fresco, outdoor-focused productions that CLO and other local companies have given us this summer. Nature is beautiful, and it's even more beautiful when surrounded by beautiful music.


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