'130 Years of Broadway Romance' woos audiences

'130 Years of Broadway Romance' woos audiences
The Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House provided a perfect, if cheesy, Valentine’s Day date to couples in Macon on Feb. 13 with Neil Berg’s “130 Years of Broadway Romance.”

Berg, a composer and lyricist, created the “100 Years of Broadway” concert tour, which he modified this Valentine’s Day season to focus on love songs. Five Broadway stars took turns singing some of the most famous love songs in showtune history, accompanied by a band that included Berg on the piano.

The audience was made up of mostly older couples, but “Broadway Romance” made showtunes easy to appreciate for young and old alike. The performers demonstrated the kind of talent and vocal control that only come with years of experience.

Natalie Toro, whose resume includes playing Eponine in Les Miserables, Grizabella in Cats and Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, opened the show with “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” from Evita, a musical adaptation of Evita Peron’s life.

Toro played Peron in a national tour of the show, and her reprisal of one of the musical’s most popular songs was stirring. More moving, though, was “On My Own,” Eponine’s love song about Marius from Les Miserables.

Toro’s voice was powerful in both songs, and she displayed an ability to belt difficult notes without switching into her upper register.

Soprano Rebecca Pitcher, who played the leading role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, sang Christine’s aria “Think of Me,” indispensable to any collection of Broadway love songs. More impressive than her soaring vocals on “Think of Me,” however, was her duet with Richard Todd Adams, who played The Phantom in a national tour of Phantom of the Opera. The two flawlessly sang the show’s title song, Adams’ tenor voice not wavering once. Pitcher’s perfect E6, the highest note in Phantom, made clear why she once played Broadway’s most coveted role.

“Cell Block Tango” from Chicago was the most interesting song in the show, not to mention the most captivating arrangement. Toro and Pitcher began singing the song, which explains why inmates in a women’s prison have murdered their lovers. While not romantic, the show needed comic relief from all the melodrama of love songs.

Usually six women sing the song, but after Toro and Pitcher sang the first half, Adams and Danny Zolli joined in, altering the words to make sense for male singers. Zolli’s credentials include leading roles in Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar and Sweeney Todd.

The best performance of the night came from Jeannette Bayardelle, who has starred in Rent, Hair and The Color Purple. The audience gave her her a standing ovation after she sang “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, a musical loosely based on the rise to fame of R&B acts like The Supremes.

“And I Am Telling You” is a challenging piece, but Bayardelle handled the song with precision. Every time it sounded like the song was getting away from her, she reigned her voice in and showed that she was in control. She belted impossibly high tones and showed incredible breath support by holding out those same notes for longer than anyone expected.

Mercer University’s Mercer Singers joined the five Broadway veterans on stage for the finale. Though Rent’s “Seasons of Love” is the finale everyone expects from a Broadway concert, the Singers and the stars ended the night with strong harmonies and feel-good lyrics.

Overall, it was a perfect and enjoyable date night for musical enthusiasts.