In its third incarnation, From Broadway to La Scala nimbly sidesteps the law of diminishing returns, showcasing a terrific sextet of stage talents in a generous, well considered program.
While the general concept, clearly telegraphed in the title, is appealing, the injection of new artists has given the popular concert tour a welcome lift in 2019. International musical theatre star Caroline O’Connor and beloved opera diva Emma Matthews are drawcards in their own right, joining proven touring talents Teddy Tahu Rhodes and David Hobson. The next generation of artists in represented by Alexander Lewis and Genevieve Kingsford, who have each enjoyed recent triumphs on the Melbourne stage.
The sense of occasion is completed by the presence of a grand stage orchestra, working under the nimble, precise baton of maestro Vanessa Scammell. Meticulously prepared, Scammell shows extraordinary musical dexterity, leaping from Sondheim and Sullivan to Bernstein and Bizet with barely a moment of transition. Musical theatre numbers particularly benefit from the lush accompaniment. As a final cherry on the musical sundae, Scammell accompanies the singers of grand piano for an encore of “The Prayer.”
Broadway begins the evening, as the six singers are introduced in a Golden Age medley. Moving across the decades, the evening’s selections are naturally focused upon proven, popular material, and yet when there is a director with the intelligence and insight of Tyran Parke involved, more interesting angles are practically guaranteed. Parke’s deft skill is seen in numbers that are “acted” rather than simply sung, with a liberal sprinkling of Sondheim and Bernstein to balance the traditional Rodgers and Lloyd Webber.
Numbers that really come alive under Parke’s direction include Hobson and O’Connor leading “Master of the House,” and a vibrant West Side Story medley that includes the memorable combination of O’Connor and Matthews singing “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love.” Similar highlights in duets include Rhodes and O’Connor drawing on their experience to perform “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd, and Lewis and Kingsford throwing themselves into a romantic recreation of The Phantom of the Opera’s “All I Ask of You.”
Individual musical theatre highlights include Kingsford’s gorgeous rendition of “Till There Was You” from The Music Man, and Rhodes’ stirring performance of “If I Were A Rich Man,” which proves an ideal fit for his vocal range. O’Connor is in her element with “Broadway Baby,” also treating the audience to Sally Bowles’ soulful “Maybe This Time.”
Operatically, one of the highlights of the concert is the unexpected choice to have all six singers perform as a background ensemble to sing the “Humming Chorus” from Madama Butterfly, a risk that pays off handsomely. La traviata’s “Drinking Song” buoyantly opens the second half of the program.
One of the most delightful aspects of the concert is the opportunity to hear Matthews sing again, an aspect that is all the more special when it becomes abundantly evident just how strong, pure and clear her nightingale voice remains. Matthew’s virtuosic rendition of the “Bell Song” from Lakmé is one of the true showstoppers of the night, leaving the audience hungry for more.
With performances characterised by warmth and camaraderie, the six singers give generously of themselves while providing an entertaining evening. It is not clear how future instalments of From Broadway to La Scala will be able to top this combination, but audiences can only hope that the producers will try.
From Broadway to La Scala played at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, 7.30pm Thursday 26 September 2019.
From Broadway to La Scala plays at Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 1.00pm Saturday 28 September 2019.