Theatre Review: "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber"

Featuring six exceptional Broadway performers, a live on-stage symphonic orchestra, and some of the most entertaining theatrical music ever written, this is what a night at the Performing Arts Center is all about.  I found myself captivated throughout, in complete awe of the talent on stage.  I’ve always been a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, and this was the best way I’ve ever seen it presented.

Helping enhance the production was the layout of the orchestra.  Stacked up on the stage, and integrated into a staircase that went up and around, the positioning enabled the singers to keep the theatricality throughout and never simply perform to the audience.  In a show filled with highlights, several of the most memorable moments were those that took advantage of this setup.  For example, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (from Evita) ended with a breathtaking moment in which Laurie Gayle Stephenson went up and behind the orchestra, towering over the stage and bringing an emotional crescendo to an already beautiful number.

These weren’t simply amazing singers, but amazing entertainers.  Going instantly in and out of character, they all played off of each other brilliantly.  With a huge amount of Broadway experience between them, they treated each number as if it was the centerpiece of the entire show.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music leans towards the bombastic, with each song building to an inevitable climactic moment.  There is little subtlety in his work, and every one of the performers provided the grandeur that his music demands. 

A great deal was demanded out of the orchestra as well, and they sounded amazing.  I didn’t hear a false note out of them the entire night.  Andrew Lloyd Webber devised this concert himself, and he provided them with some terrific orchestrations.  Conveying the emotion and tone of each number, the singers were given excellent musicians to play off of. 

In total, the concert ran approximately two hours.  There was a short intermission, but with that exception, the night was pure music, beginning to end. Unfortunately, the concert wasn’t perfect.  David Josefsberg provided the only weak moments the entire evening.  Skewing a little more rock/pop than the music demanded, he occasionally ventured into a falsetto reminiscent of Adam Lambert from American Idol.  I think that style can sound terrific, but honestly, Lambert does it better than Josefsberg.  He occasionally seemed to be straining, and this style didn’t entirely fit the music. 

However, despite a couple of these little moments, Josefsberg did a mostly great job, and with such powerhouse performers, these moments did nothing to detract from the rest of the show.  On the opposite end of the spectrum was Howard McGillin, the standout of the evening.  Having played the Phantom of the Opera over 2,500 times (!), he has a definite understanding of Webber’s material.  There is so much power in his voice that you can’t help but be captivated by every note he sings.  As each song began, the logo of the play featuring that song was displayed on the wall behind the performers.  When the logo for Phantom came up, and he started performing the role he knows best, you could feel the awe in the room.  It was thrilling to be part of that communal experience.

Having already mentioned Laurie Gayle Sephenson (who it should be noted did a beautiful job as Christine during the Phantom segment), David Josefsberg and Howard McGillin, I should mention the other performers.  Deone Zanotto, Kathy Voytko and Kevin Kern rounded out the cast brilliantly.  They were all perfectly adept at every style thrown at them, and lived up to this show’s huge demands.

This is the type of show that will wow those who are already fans, and win over those who aren’t.  Featuring some of the best numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Phantom, Joseph, Sunset Boulevard, etc., some of his less known works are also showcased.  I was surprised to see the inclusion of the haunting overture from The Beautiful Game, and thrilled to find that they included numbers from The Woman in White and Whistle Down the Wind.  Being performed at the Orange County Performing Arts Center now through February 21, this is a must-see production.  You won’t be disappointed.

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