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August 4, 2011

Broadway in Bryant Park recap: ‘Rent’ and ‘Wicked’

by Jesse North
Bryant Park Rent

The big boys came out to play in Bryant Park Thursday. This week’s outdoor concert featured some of Broadway’s biggest box-office hitters: Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Rent, and Wicked. Death Takes A Holiday came by to chill too. This group made for one of the strongest sets this summer, without having any particular wow moment. Here are the highlights.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s new off-Broadway musical Death Takes A Holiday served as the opening act. Kevin Earley, the newly crowned lead who has replaced the laryngitis-stricken Julian Ovenden, was there to toe tap with Mara Davi in “Shimmy Like They Do In Gay Paris.” Spring Awakening alum Alexandra Socha was clear-voiced and charming during “What Do You Do” with Max Von Essen. Overall, the new score by Maury Yeston sounded elegant and romantic.

The boys from Jersey set the mic stands in a line and plowed through a medley of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons classics. Even though I’ve heard this set so many times, the foursome of Miles Aubrey, Erik Bates, Russell Fischer, and Ryan Jesse sounded spot on as the famous crooners. Also, I’m a sucker for that mic-stand choreography.

Two members of The Lion King cast took the stage for a short, but sweet set. Nteliseng Nkhela, who plays Rafiki, sang a gorgeous version of “The Circle of Life.” The number, which is really the high point of the Broadway show with the entire menagerie of animals on stage, came across surprisingly moving without all that fanfare. In an odd move, Joel Karle joined Manye on stage for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” and she sang the Nala role. Needless to say, the actress who plays Rafiki does not double as Nala. I guess the Lion King team thought it’d be easier just to send one actress to Bryant Park today and that she could double up on the parts, but it came across as Simba running around on his lioness with a baboon. Just sayin’.

Overwhelming cheers greeted the stars of the new off-Broadway production of Rent when they took the stage for their set. Annaleigh Ashford and Corbin Reid sang a feisty “Take Me Or Leave Me.” Ashford played up the kooky qualities of her character Maureen, which was fed by the audience’s laughter. Reid as Joanne was overpowered by Ashford, but I guess that’s kinda what the characters are fighting about in that song. Marcus Paul James was the sole representative for “Seasons of Love,” which is usually supported by at lest 10 different vocal roles. James did well with the signature number on his own, and was charming while encouraging the crowd to join him.

VIDEO: Annaleigh Ashford and Corbin Reid sing “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent

Lastly, the stars of Wicked showed up to blow the leaves off the trees in Bryant Park with their ear-popping vocals. No, really; it happened. While Teal Wicks was popping vocal chords to “The Wizard and I,” leaves were sweeping through the jam-packed Bryant Park lawn. Richard H. Blake faced off against Wicks in a soundwave battle during “As Long As You’re Mine”—luckily, the result was a tie and no one was hurt. Katie Rose Clarke got to drum up her own vocal storm during “Popular.” When the three were done with their set, the Bryant Park audience clapped with joy, because they still had their hearing.

VIDEO: Teal Wicks sings “The Wizard and I” from Wicked

Set lists:

Death Takes A Holiday
“Shimmy Like They Do In Gay Paris”
“What Do You Do”
“More and More”

Jersey Boys
“Big Girls Don’t Cry”
“Walk Like A Man”
“Who Loves You”
“December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)”

The Lion King
“The Cirlcle of Life”
“Can You Feel The Love Tonight”

“Take Me Or Leave Me”
“Seasons of Love”

“As Long As You’re Mine”
“The Wizard and I”

Who was the biggest Broadway belter this week, Rushers? Which heavy-hitter do you think did the best? Are you prepared for the final installment of the concert series next Thursday? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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