Undeterred by Thursday night’s rainstorm, it was a slightly soggy yet enthusiastic crowd that turned out for Matthew Morrison in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra and special guest Laura Benanti at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap on July 10, 2014. They were not disappointed—the energy of the performers, as well as their amazing talent, made for one of the most entertaining concerts I have attended in a while.Matthew Morrison is most known for his role as “Will Schuester” on the hit TV show Glee, as well as his many performances on Broadway, including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza. Laura Benanti was recently seen on television as “Elsa” in the NBC live telecast of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, and is a Tony Award-winner for her role as “Louise” in Gypsy on Broadway. As their many credits might suggest, both are consummate performers. Their screen and stage credits alone however do not reflect just how charismatic and energetic they are in front of a crowd—with their easy humor and lively dancing they had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.
Under the consummate direction of Steven Reineke, the National Symphony Orchestra was fantastic backing up the singers as well as performing in their own right. They opened the concert with a bouncy arrangement of “New York, New York,” starting the concert with an energy that continued throughout the night.
The songs were chosen mostly from Broadway and the American Songbook, though with updated arrangements to fight the contemporary styles of Morrison and Benanti. They were clearly very comfortable with the song choices, and able to perform them with ease and mastery. Morrison has a jazzy sensibility that is perfectly suited to the lounge songs such as “The Lady is a Tramp”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”, and his smooth tenor voice more than did them justice. Benanti showed her capability with big Broadway numbers, singing the standards such as “The Sound of Music” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” with her creamy, golden soprano.
The best part of the night however was not one particular song or moment, but rather was Morrison’s dancing in every number! This self-proclaimed “song and dance man” was exactly that, as he danced all around the stage during his numbers, soft-shoeing, dancing with the microphone stand, taking over the conductor’s baton to conduct the orchestra, dancing with his fedora, and even dancing with an umbrella during his fantastic performance of “Singin’ in the Rain.” His humor was infectious and had me completely enthralled.
Other highlights were the duets between Morrison and Benanti. They sang a lovely, intimate duet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” during which Morrison also showed off his ukulele skills as their voices blended and complemented each other wonderfully. Their best duet though was their encore: a symphonic arrangement of Pharrell’s “Happy.” They had the audience on their feet, clapping along and laughing and wishing that the concert wasn’t over already.
While there were occasional sound issues (the orchestra at times overpowered Morrison, and there was a startlingly loud “blat” during one of the numbers), the stalwart souls who braved the rainstorm and the DC traffic to get out to Wolf Trap were well rewarded with an evening of fun, entertainment, and good song.
Running Time: 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.Source
As soon as the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), under the baton of maestro Steven Reineke, started playing the Kander and Ebb classic "New York, New York," I started to forget about the fact that I was caught in a rainstorm and was more than a little wet. My soggy shoes were immediately forgotten when the talented group of musicians made one of my all-time favorite Broadway overtures (South Pacific) seem new. By the time the headline vocalists took the stage for the evening, I could only revel in the beautiful music and think about little else.
Yes, it's NSO at Wolf Trap season again in the DC Metro Area. Last night's offering featured the NSO, Matthew Morrison, and Laura Benanti taking on some classic Broadway showtunes with a few pop hits thrown in for good measure. Morrison - probably best known to the general public for his work as high school teacher Mr. Schuster on the popular television show Glee - has made somewhat of a career the past few years sharing his considerable 'song and dance man' talents alongside some of the greatest symphonies in the country. Last night, in front of an appreciative and hearty crowd, Morrison continued this trend of showing he's more than just that guy on Glee. He reminded me once again why I fell in love with his voice in 2005 while experiencing the grandeur that was Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza at Lincoln Center and then again in 2008 during the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Special guest, Broadway vet and Tony Award winner Benanti - featured in the Broadway revivals of Gypsy, Nine, Into the Woods, and The Sound of Music, screen-to-stage musicals like Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown and The Wedding Singer - is always a delight in cabaret, concert, and in any musical (and I've seen her in many). Her performance last night was certainly no exception.
Standout moments came in many forms and from many sources despite a sound balance issue or two.
Morrison's jazzy rendition of the Duke Ellington standard "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing" proved to be a strong start for his set because it showcased both his smooth and pleasing vocals as well as his stage presence. Yes, the ever-present top hat made an appearance as did his dance moves. His fun-loving spirit - and clear admiration for Gene Kelly - was on display yet again during his apropos closing number, "Singin' in the Rain," complete with an umbrella. However, it was the more understated vocal moments that got my attention, many of which are featured on his relatively recent debut solo album. From "As Long as She Needs Me" (Oliver) to "On the Street Where You Live" (My Fair Lady), it's abundantly clear that Morrison can also connect with an audience without any excess. His pure and crystal clear vocals are certainly an asset that I hope are put to good use on the Broadway stage once again. I did wish he could take on something from South Pacific given his connection to that show, but perhaps that's a reason for him to come back to give another concert in the Washington, DC area.
Although I've seen both performers in numerous concerts, cabarets, and musicals, I've not ever had the chance to hear them sing together. Despite their very different vocal flavors and performing styles, the duets worked just as well as the solos. Taking on songs as varied as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (featuring Morrison on ukulele) and recent pop hits like "Starry-Eyed/Video Games" (a very nice arrangement by Todd Almond), they achieved a great vocal blend and demonstrated a wonderful friendly rapport with one another. I've heard Laura do that pop arrangement previously and while extremely memorable as a solo, the addition of Matthew's voice was a nice bonus.
At every step of the way, the NSO - along with the equally talented music director/pianist Brad Ellis (probably best known as "Brad the Pianist" on Glee) - served as a perfect complement to the vocal performances no matter the style. Although the precision and energy with which the orchestra plays is undeniable, I especially appreciated that the musicians were very clearly enjoying performing the music as much as the singers. I've found with many pops orchestras this isn't always the case when it comes to Broadway material. Yet, they didn't only shine when there were vocalists in the mix. As much as the overture from Gypsy may be, for some, far too common in Broadway-centric symphonic concerts, I must say it's one that I can't get enough of. Ever. Particularly when played by such an incredible orchestra.
And that's what this concert was.....pretty incredible.Broadway World