VSO's Broadway Pops featured some stellar moments

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra brought a Pops program to the Ferguson Center Friday titled “Broadway to Z…Abba to Les Miz.”

Well, it wasn’t exactly that since “Les Miz” was dropped from the list of potential works to be done and of the 16 selections offered, three were from “Phantom of the Opera.” Regardless, it was a tuneful couple of hours that was ably conducted by VSO assistant conductor Gonzalo Farias who maintained solid, coordinated contact with guest singers Alicia Hall Moran and Nick Spangler.

The Pops staging was less formal than main stage efforts, this one with a drum set behind plexiglass center stage in front of the podium, microphones placed all over the stage, and flanking the podium a piano and synthesizer type keyboard and several electric guitars and amplifiers, all guaranteed to make sure sound was abundantly present.

Things opened with a medley of songs from Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” followed by the introduction of the evening’s vocal hosts — vocal in the sense of singing and in back and forth bantering with a thin script that served to transition songs.

The Moran-Spangler duo quickly got rolling with songs from “Mamma Mia,” which filled the Abba slot. They also teamed up for a touching “How Could I Ever Forget” from “Next to Normal,” “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors,” a romantic “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and two “Phantom“ songs — “Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night,” sung in ensemble and extended solo portions.

Evident, almost from the start of the song making was the stylistic difference between Moran and Spangler. Spangler boasts a strong background in Broadway and Off Broadway musical theatre He exuded the energy and physical presence of a person who has the magic of the musical stage running through his veins; she less so.

Without doubt, Spangler knows how to sell a song, delivering lyrics with conviction and intent of character. He didn‘t just sing; he brought to each song physical and facial movement that embraced situations or characters being depicted. His was a magnetic presence that resulted in such superbly done songs as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” from “Jersey Boys” and a delightful “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from “Spamalot,” which he did with a British-y accent and a little happy foot movement.

However, his delivery of “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage Aux Folles” was devastatingly spectacular, filled with intensity that made this the evening’s highlight.

Moran’s well-placed mezzo-soprano has been noted for its “deep velvety tone,” which alluring quality, sadly, was heard only briefly in a portion of “Memory” from “Cats.” However, she handled the majority of her upper realm work solidly, notably her portion of “Phantom of the Opera” with its spiraling upward arc.

Although she starred in the “Porgy and Bess” touring company, her vocal experience has been less Broadway and more recordings and meaningful endeavors with writers, jazz musicians, artists and choreographers, which collaborations have been tied to worthy cultural-social-diversity awareness issues and humanitarian endeavors.

Certainly, her “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” was bubbly and “Popular” from “Wicked” embraced the witty lyrics, even though her attempt at comic interaction with a viola player fell flat. But, the seductive “All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” though sung well, lacked the sizzle, shimmy and shake associated with it.

In short, Moran seemed comfortable but not cozy with this particular “Broadway” format. Vocal styles aside, the duo’s deliveries delighted the audience which was rewarded with an encore, “Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing.”

In addition to the opening “Phantom“ medley, the VSO offered songs from “A Chorus Line” and a terrific arrangement of songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” which reminded one of how great a score is this Webber/Rice creation.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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