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July 16, 2010


Broadway in Bryant Park recap: Memphis and Billy Elliot

by Jesse North

The second installment of the free summer Broadway-at-lunchtime extravaganza (aka Broadway in Bryant Park) enjoyed much less steamy weather than its premiere week. I also indulged in one of the park’s signature green chair this time, which resulted in a much further spot for filming, which I didn’t realize was a consequence until later. Let me know if the videos are too difficult to see, or if you enjoyed the full-stage perspective.

This week’s concert, which boasted a hefty lineup, kicked off with the oddball of the group—The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes. I can’t be the only one who isn’t keen on Christmas in July. Thankfully, the Rockettes showed the audience mercy and refrained from performing to any Yuletide tunes. Instead, they relegated their performance to a brief routine of high kicks and chorus lines to an instrumental number (no Christmas carol I could make out), and exited the stage roughly three minutes after they began. Someone’s not getting coal in their stocking, come December.

The first real show to take the stage was the king of Broadway, The Phantom of the Opera. Phantom actor John Cudia was not in attendance, but Paul Schaefer knocked it out of the park with “Music of the Night.” Interestingly, Phantom only got two songs, which, as I would find out, left more time for newer shows. Usually, all shows get four numbers. This week, the allotted numbers were quite unbalanced.

The cast of South Pacific was up to bat next, and they were easily the best performers of the day. I’ve thought for a while that the South Pacific chorus is the strongest I’ve ever seen on Broadway. Danny Burstein and his men proved it once again with “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” making full use of the stage, something that Memphis could have done (but more on that later). Laura Osnes (ah, a star!) was up for the Bryant Park challenge and sang “A Wonderful Guy.” Seeing her perform was a first for me, and I was quite impressed with her vocals.

Video: “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”

The ballerinas-in-training of Billy Elliot stormed the stage for another number that spread across the large Bryant Park performance space, “Shine.” The performance was so good that I eagerly awaited the announcement of which song was next, but it turned out that was Billy’s only offering. I am shocked that such a new play would only do one performance at such a promotional event. Was the cast simply not up to the mid-day task? Do the producers feel so confident in the show’s sales (which are incredibly strong) that they feel the Bryant Park promotion is unnecessary?

Video: “Shine”

Last up was the cast of Memphis, which I greatly anticipated. Being that they just won the Tony for Best Musical, this is practically like the homecoming king making his appearance at the school dance. I have to say, after seeing their set, Memphis missed this great opportunity. Chad Kimball (yes, he was there!) kicked things off with “The Music of My Soul,” and sounded solid as ever. Dan’yelle Williamson, pinch-hitting for Montego Glover (she was a no-show! Yet Kimball, who is frequently understudied, was there!) elicited probably the most enthusiastic applause of the day from the crowd for her rendition of “Colored Woman.” OK, two great solos from the show’s two lead characters—that’s fine. Certainly the next two songs are going to be from the selection of the show’s numerous ensemble dance numbers. Wrong. It’s Cass Morgan’s (predictably rhymed) solo, and it closed Memphis’ set. Just as In the Heights ended the concert on a high note last week with the super-charged “96,000,” Memphis should have closed with “Underground,” the show’s opener, easily one of its best songs. For a show that has such elaborate and well-performed ensemble sequences, they needed to show this crowd-pleasing trait to the eager audience of tourists. Missed opportunity, Memphis. And why did South Pacific get four numbers, and Memphis only get three? Memphis needs the performance time, as it could use stronger sales, and is still an open-ended run and has yet to recoup its investment. South Pacific has recouped and is just playing out till its August 22 closing.

Set lists:

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
A mercifully short set of high kicks, sans Christmas carols

The Phantom of the Opera
“All I Ask of You”
“The Music of the Night”

South Pacific
“There Is Nothing Like A Dame”
“Younger Than Springtime”
“Bali Ha’i”
“A Wonderful Guy”

Billy Elliott

“The Music of My Soul”
“Colored Woman”
“Change Don’t Come Easy”

Tune in next week when the casts of Chicago, A Little Night Music, Rock of Ages, and Falling For Eve take the stage at Bryant Park. In the meantime, what did you think of week two of the free lunchtime concerts? Were you as thrilled not to hear Christmas songs in July, like I was? Were you disappointed Montego Glover didn’t perform? Were you pleased with Memphis’ song choices? Let’s all pretend to be Simon Cowell and critique these shows’ song choices in the comments section. Go!

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Clare
    Jul 16 2010

    After reading your review, I agree that it certainly seems strange that the number of songs for each group would be so uneven. You do a great job of summarizing the day’s events, Jesse!


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