Outstanding moments so quickly multiplied during the Phoenix Symphony's BRAVO! Broadway opening performance last night, that to relay only a few seems an injustice. Just know, the highlights of the John Such Artists orchestral Broadway revue production that follow reveal only a fleeting glimpse of the evening's superb symphonic-pop blend or the music's lasting emotional impact.
Guest conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, from the Overture's first downbeat, led the orchestra with Astaire-like grace and precision. Every ear absorbed the French horns' longing offer in 'Look to the Rainbow' to "follow the fellow" conducting with dreamy anticipation. In his effortless, freeing supervision, Fleischer and his baton truly danced through the 'Tea for Two' measures.
The seamless musical introduction of smooth transitions set the literally starlit stage for three of Broadway's best-loved voices to enter. Gary Mauer's (Arizona-bred and raised) svelte lead vocal in 'All I Need Now is the Girl' (Gypsy) cued leading ladies Susan Egan's and Christiane Noll's entrance. Following rousing applause for the trio's opening 'Together Wherever We Go' (Gypsy), the audience broke into spontaneous clapping during Egan's opening solo, 'Don't Rain on my Parade' (Funny Girl).
As if Fleischer's opening two-step with his baton set the tone for a night of brilliant and unexpected partnerships, Noll's 'I Could Have Danced All Night' (My Fair Lady) was a simply dazzling-duo exercise in orchestration. The orchestra actually lead with the melody while Noll's lilting vocals followed during the number's chorus. She floated, voice and body, through choreographed dance steps, and the crowd felt, heard and saw the entire string section as her partner.
The next surprise pairings melded as the symphony celebrated Music Man's Broadway fame. Fleischer's mastery guided a proudly restrained beginning to 'Seventy-Six Trombones' that was suddenly swirling with infusions of Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes Forever.' As the piece returned to pure Broadway and the trombones stood to unleash the brassy climax of the piece, it became a suavely sliding invitation to the violins, who also stood, to join them at the symphonic peak.
And the remarkable moments continued to mount. Time itself seemed interrupted near the end of the first act. Egan so completely immersed herself in a re-creation of her Broadway Cabaret role of Sally Bowles, that the symphony demurely vanished. Laced with invisible, lyric violins in 'Life is a Cabaret,' only Bowles' captivating melodic memory of Elsie seemed present. Audible sighs of disappointment followed Egan's announcement that intermission was fast-approaching.
A sensuous, muted trumpet opened the second act Entr'acte with more juicy Cabaret selections, burbling a saucy 'All that Jazz.' Later, time and space froze for a second time when Mauer metaphorically joined hands with the symphony harpist. When offered an achingly prayerful 'Bring Him Home' from Les Miserable, the audience reveled in one of those rare, pristine moments of awed silence before showering the hall in applause.
Perhaps the symphonic highlight in a night filled with highlights came during the purely instrumental West Side Story 'Overture' medley. Like an ensemble harnessing volcanic energy, the players evoked a restrained yearning in 'Somewhere,' alongside a playfully raucous, vocalized 'Mambo.' At a pinnacle moment, with a dramatic sweeping gesture, Fleischer released the orchestra to erupt with 'Tonight,' while the phrases flowed and glowed like lava.
Savoring the one-of-a-kind interaction of live performance, the audience nonetheless started missing the second chances a remote-rewind button might offer. The world class musicians whisked through a jaw-dropping rendition of Company's 'Getting Married' and strings were plucked rather than bowed emphasizing Egan's electric 'Defying Gravity' from Wicked.
Finally, an absolutely hypnotic personification of dark arose when Mauer, with the help of Noll's soaring operatic notes, re-created his Broadway Phantom role to sing 'Music of the Night.' As the strings caressed the famous, ominously descending runs and as deep, rich rumbles emanated from the cellos and basses, there seemed an eerie truth about the "cold unfeeling light" of which Mauer sang.
All too soon, the night ended amid "Bravos!" for BRAVO! Broadway.... and with not one, but two lively, spring-from-your-feet, standing ovations.