Big hits bring Broadway bravos

MSO Pops! concert features musical theater fest

MSO Pops! concert features musical theater fest

September 19, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Sniffing his nose at some of the performances dotting the Concert for America televised Sept. 11, Doug LaBrecque nevertheless became spellbound as soprano Rene Fleming took the stage.

"She takes the stage looking as beautiful as ever and sings 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and it was stunning," the veteran Broadway performer says. "A song like that is a masterpiece of a song and when it's sung with a 75-piece symphony rather than a 25-piece Broadway band, it takes it to another place."

Joined by Jan Horvath and Ron Raines, and backed by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, LaBrecque gets to do much the same thing this weekend at The Maryland Theatre.


Dressed to the nines, backed by the lush sounds of a full orchestra and armed with a classic repertoire of Broadway gems, the trio of vocalists are Bravo Broadway! - this year's MSO Pops! Concert performance.

And this is what you get: Musical theater, minus the theater but plus - B-I-G plus - on the music.

It's just the way the traveling minstrels with Bravo Broadway! like it.

"For me, what makes it so special is you're hearing this music with a full orchestra. When you go to Broadway, the orchestra in the orchestra pit is much, much smaller and now it's much more synthesized," says Horvath, a seven-year Bravo Broadway! performer. "The music is so much more flushed out. It's beautiful and you've never heard it like that on Broadway. It's a heightened musical experience, I think."

Created by John Such in 1994, Bravo Broadway! is a stable of 15 singers split into threes who travel the country performing as many as 80 concerts each year.

"That was the idea, to bring a piece of Broadway to the places around America where getting to New York is not always an option," Such says. "It's really gratifying just to see the reaction of the audience and in many cases the orchestra as well."

MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze is a believer, having worked with the troupe several times in her career, including her first season in Hagerstown.

Praising the group's ability to interpret material from musical theater classics to selections from current hits and revivals, Schulze says casting a light squarely on the songs allows audiences to hear the music as composers and arrangers intended.

"You're focusing on the actual song and not in the context of the stage," she says. "Sometimes you lose sight of how wonderful the music is, and this allows the beauty of the music and skill of the composer to be put in the forefront."

For Raines, who stars as Alan Spaulding on CBS' "Guiding Light," Bravo Broadway! allows him to continue feeding his love for musical theater without giving up his day job.

He can't take a four-week engagement with "Man of La Mancha" but he can travel weekends to perform with symphonies. Coincidentally, his first Bravo performance in 1994 was with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Schulze.

"I love this music. I really do well with it. I don't do grand opera, I don't do rock and I don't do pop," he says. "I do standard, Broadway showtunes and this is a wonderful outlet for this."

He figures this weekend's show is also a great opportunity to bring in new fans with lighter fare than a performance of Mozart concertos.

"This is the perfect show to bring the family to. There's a little bit of everything there," "It's a great intro to American musical theater. It's great form. ... It's a great place to start."

Here's the not so dirty, and certainly not so secret, thing about life on The Great White Way: It's hard, and not in an 'oh, I get paid millions of dollars to emote' sort of way.

Eight shows a week, endless auditions, a role that doesn't change. Ever.

Why, earlier this year Raines juggled "Guiding Light" duties with a two-month stint as Billy Flynn in the Broadway production of "Chicago," a feat he compares to climbing Mt. Everest.

No wonder, LaBrecque says, there is a burnout rate. What the Bravo Broadway! performers enjoy is the versatility of orchestra performance.

They get to walk on stage as themselves, chatting with the audience and not having to hide behind a set character.

Then there is the music.

"What I get to do in concerts is really the ultimate for a singer, to play all the best parts and sing all the best songs and I really love it," Horvath says. "I'm not an ingenue anymore, but I still get to sing 'I enjoy being a girl.'"

When LaBrecque, a Battle Creek, Mich., native, graduated in 1988 from the University of Michigan, the last place he envisioned his career ending up was fronting orchestras around the world.

"When you're younger and you have the burning desire in your eyes, you'll do anything to get paid to do what you love doing," he says, and for nearly eight years, from 1989 until he joined Bravo Broadway! in 1997 he worked nonstop in productions, whether three years in Toronto with "Phantom of the Opera," a year in San Francisco with "Les Miserables" or starring in the Broadway revival of "Showboat."

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