BWW Review: Broadway Divas and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Bring Girl Power to the Strathmore
There is truly something extraordinary in experiencing a concert with a full orchestra, especially in concert halls like the Music Center at Strathmore and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The Broadway Divas concert was no exception. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with their conductor Jack Everly, was the unheralded fifth diva of the concert at the Music Center at Strathmore, shining especially at the beginning of the concert with a Broadway musical medley and other suites throughout the night.
The opening medley also served as the introduction to our "divas" of the concert: Christina Bianco (FORBIDDEN BROADWAY), N'Kenge (MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL), Kristen Plumley (THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE), and Mandy Gonzalez (IN THE HEIGHTS). In every number they sang together, especially "Can't Help Lovin' Dat That Man" from SHOWBOAT, the blending of their voices was a sound worthy for a Broadway stage. Individually, they showed off their various strengths in their solo performances. Everly, besides conducting the BSO, lead the concert radiantly, giving brief backgrounds on the songs performed throughout the performance while cracking jokes that only true musical theatre lovers would recognize.
While familiar with the voices of Bianco and Gonzalez, I had never seen performances by Plumley nor N'Kenge. Both exceeded my expectations. Plumley's beautiful soprano voice, with its crisp and clear tone, resonated throughout the concert hall in her performance of "I Could Have Danced All Night" from MY FAIR LADY. It was not a surprise that her rendition rivaled that of Julie Andrew's; Plumley has various opera and theater credits around the US, including La bohème (Musetta) at the Amarillo Opera and CAROUSEL (Carrie) at the Virginia Opera. N'Kenge, having most recently played Mary Wells in Broadway's MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL, shone through her large vocal range. In the first act of the concert, she had you entranced with the operatic "Summertime," from PORGY AND BESS, and in the next, she brought the house down with the show-stopping "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from DREAMGIRLS. The emotion and control of both vocalists in each song was extremely impressive.
I was most excited to see Gonzalez. The first time I heard her sing was on the cast recording of IN THE HEIGHTS as Nina Rosario, where her emotional portrayal in songs like "Breathe" earned her a Drama Desk Award. So I was extremely surprised when that song was not included in the line-up. In a mash-up with Bianco singing PETER PAN's "Never Never Land," however, Gonzalez sang her rendition of WICKED's "Defying Gravity," a song that she is very accustomed to, having taken on the role of Elphaba in 2010 after replacing Dee Roscioli. While I felt that some of her songs were not totally suited to her deep, sultry voice, including "Defying Gravity," she owned her rendition of "Maybe This Time," from CABARET, commanding the stage as only Sally Bowles would do.
Bianco, however, stole the show. Her spoof of "Tomorrow" from ANNIE drew many laughs from the audience. Besides having a spectacular voice, as exhibited through the various songs she sang and her past experience in various Off-Broadway shows, her impressions of famous singers were the night's sensation. I had seen YouTube videos of her impressions (some of which have over six million views), but they do her no justice, even though they are more extensive. From Judy Garland to Céline Dion (despite Dion not being a "Broadway" diva), she impersonated various singers through the songs that made them famous. It was truly the highlight of the evening, and I wish it had lasted longer.
As the concert neared its end, one thing resonated with me. Women on Broadway are truly forces to be reckoned with. The divas honored at this concert brought strength and power to the roles they played, allowing other women to relate to them and encouraging women to overcome the obstacles placed in their paths. As a woman and lover of theatre, that is truly special to me. While I wish more current Broadway divas would have been highlighted in the concert, like Sutton Foster or Megan Hilty, the performance of each classic song showed that the divas of the Great White Way, including the vocalists of this concert, are nothing short of inspiring.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
Broadway Divas played the Music Center at Strathmore on March 31st and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall from April 1st-3rd. Upcoming BSO concerts include Gershwin's Porgy and Bess: In Concert at the Meyerhoff on April 8th and at the Strathmore on April 9th, as well as Birdie Melodies, part of the Music Box Series, on April 9th at the Meyerhoff. For tickets, call the box office at 410-783-8000 (Meyerhoff) or at 877-276-1444 (Strathmore). Tickets can also be purchased online.
Photo Credit: Jack Everly pictured; courtesy of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.