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July 22, 2011

Broadway in Bryant Park recap: ‘Memphis’ and ‘Rock of Ages’

by Jesse North

This week’s acts at Broadway in Bryant Park couldn’t match the scorching heat of Kerry Butler and Aaron Tveit from last week, so Mother Nature sent down an excess of UV rays to make up for the difference. The third week of the concert series was the hottest yet, clocking in at 94 degrees. In addition to the added heat, there were five shows performing, breaking from the usual four. It was a jam-packed show with solid turnouts, but no clear, wowing performance.

Joseph Harrington took the stage first for Billy Elliot, singing “Electricity.” His delivery seemed a bit robotic and inorganic, but at the end when he took center stage and performed numerous, consecutive pirouettes—I couldn’t help but have chills. Emily Skinner sang Mrs. Wilkinson’s number, “Shine,” but was unaccompanied by her ballerina students, who performed during the number last year. Closing out their set, all four current Broadway Billies (Harrington, Tade Biesinger, Giuseppe Bausilio, and Peter Mazurowski) convened for a tap dance set.

Memphis sent in its understudies in place of Chad Kimball and Montego Glover. Bryan Fenkart, who sat down with Stage Rush for an “Understudy Hall” profile, is often a pinch-hitter for the role of Huey. News broke on Thursday that Kimball is scheduled to take a leave of absence from the musical in the fall due to a long-gestating injury. Fenkart’s appearance at the Bryant Park concert provided some thoughtful foreshadowing as to whether he might be tapped to replace Kimball in the role. Regardless, Fenkart delivered a vocally-impressive and well-acted “The Music of My Soul,” followed by Dan’yelle Williamson, who added her own gospel flourishes to the great solo “Colored Woman.” Surprisingly, Fenkart and Williamson were the only two Memphis representatives. I found it odd that the show didn’t make use of its impressive ensemble, but the two back-up leads delivered a strong set on their own.

VIDEO: Bryan Fenkart sings “The Music of My Soulfrom Memphis

And then came the Voca People. They stormed the stage making bleeping and whirring noises, with faces coated in white paint and covered from head to toe in white clothes. On the 94-degree day, I figured they were making those irritating sounds because they were malfunctioning. But no, it was all part of the act—the cheesy, unfunny act. An a capella troupe with elements of the Blue Man Group mixed in (only lacking their cool hue)—Voca People warble out a strung-together series of pop hits through the decades that none of us ever needed to hear again. They bleated and hummed through “Billie Jean,” “The Macarena,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and “Who Let The Dogs Out,” among other gems. The bleached crooners dragged a woman on stage to serenade her, and the entire time, she wore a forced grin that conveyed her desperation to evaporate off the Bryant Park stage.

Finally returning to our regularly-scheduled programming, the cast of The Addams Family gave what was, surprisingly, the most lively set of the day. Rachel Potter took everyone’s minds off the sweltering heat with her clear and forceful vocals on “Pulled”—a true commanding of the stage. Brad Oscar showed up for “The Moon And Me,” a sweet number, which works so much better within the actual production. Potter returned with Jesse Swenson for their youthful duet “Crazier Than You.” Naturally, Brooke Shields, who is currently playing Morticia, wouldn’t be caught dead in Bryant Park, so Stephanie Gibson lead the Addams ensemble in “Just Around The Corner.” The rousing performance featured a full set of choreography, and even props (including a large sythe—the Grim Reaper’s weapon of choice).

Lastly, the cast of Rock of Ages commenced their set, appearing a bit daunted by the heat. They performed “Wanted Dear or Alive” with enthusiasm that barely ranked higher than simply going through the motions. Their rendition of the all-inclusive “Here I Go Again” brought a nice enthusiasm and many worthy vocals to the stage, and concluded with the obligatory “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

VIDEO: The cast of Rock of Ages sings “Here I Go Again.”

Set list:

Billy Elliot
Tap dance

“The Music of My Soul”
“Colored Woman”

Voca People
Dusty pop hits that nobody ever asked to hear again

The Addams Family
“The Moon and Me”
“Crazier Than You”
“Just Around The Corner”

Rock of Ages
“Wanted Dead or Alive”
“Here I Go Again”
“Don’t Stop Believin’”

What did you think was the strongest act in the third week of Broadway in Bryant Park, Rushers? Did you actually hold out hope that Brooke Shields would show up? Do you think Bryan Fenkart will (and should) succeed Chad Kimball in the role of Huey? Do you think the Voca People should go back to the planet they came from? Wipe the sweat off your brow and leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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