–The Rockford Symphony Orchestra presented its third Pops Series with the theme, “Broadway Today!” Saturday evening at the Coronado Theatre.
–It was a sellout house with an electric atmosphere in anticipation for some of the most stirring music from selected contemporary musicals of our time. Musical director Steven Larsen noted that “The Great American Songbook” has an enormous collection of lyrics up until the ‘60s. Since then, the musical bar has risen to include many more classics to date that might be labeled Volume II of America’s theatre genre.
–It was also an unusual evening when the RSO rather took an upstage position as backdrop to the power and glamour downstage. Except for some opening highlights from “Wicked,” “Symphonic Reflections” and selections from “Les Miserables,” it paid polite reverence to special guest Broadwayers Rita Harvey, Philip Hernandez and Ted Keegan.
–The glamour and glitz was definitely downstage, with belting volume and spotlights galore. While soprano Harvey could up the volume for notes and assume a charming character, there was no doubt that she had substance beneath a tinny lyric designed for Disney or shallow roles for lesser songsters. Her operatic training likely supported her wonderful articulation in “Getting Married Today” from musical “Company.”
–Moreover, Harvey seemed to rise above comparisons to Sarah Brightman of the original ‘Phantom’ production by bringing her own brand of emotional and deeply convincing vocal timbre, a feat difficult to achieve since the advent of previous hoopla surrounding the first Andrew Lloyd Webber cast.
–An immediate highlight of the program was the stirring presence of Hernandez when his haunting and emotional presentation in the first act promised great things to come with ‘Phantom’ on the musical horizon. He just seemed to have power and delivery about everything monstrous and beautiful at the same time with his own mysterious crescendos.
–It was the voice and power of Keegan as the phantom, however, that delivered the emotionally evocative “Music of the Night,” while Hernandez sang the more worldly love-struck “All I Ask of You.” Keegan seemed to excel in more straight-manlike belting songs in the first act, especially as center preacher in “Getting Married Today.” But he was clearly in charge of his phantom character, having toured, performed and lived the monster role in a wide variety of scenarios.
–Considering the versatile and commanding presence of Hernandez, however, it would have been an interesting switch to hear his version of “Music of the Night.” He has been most accomplished on the Broadway circuit with his roles in “Les Miserables,” daytime soaps and even under the magic baton of icon Leonard Bernstein.
–Encore song, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” was a fit evening closer.