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Maryland Symphony Orchestra presents 'Broadway Rocks'

Rock edge to MSO concert promises to raise the roof

September 23, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN
  • Capathia Jenkins
Submitted photo,

Music Director Elizabeth Schulze predicts that Saturday's Pops concert, "Broadway Rocks," will be one of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's "best to date."

She saw the guest artists -- Rob Evan, Capathia Jenkins and Christiane Noll -- star in the program with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap in the summer of 2009.

"The energy and passion that these artists put into their performances is astounding," she wrote in an e-mail. "We're definitely ready to rock out!"

Schulze also is looking forward to working with the Shenandoah Chorus for the first time. "I know that their youthful enthusiasm will greatly add to the excitement of the evening," Schulze wrote.

The 111-member vocal ensemble is made up of a cross-section of Shenandoah Conservatory students and includes a few students from the university at large, said director Karen Keating, associate professor at the Winchester, Va., university.


"Broadway Rocks" is packed with music -- not the tunes of your father's Great White Way. The program includes songs from "Hairspray," "Rent," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Jersey Boys." There's a "Mamma Mia" medley, "Pinball Wizard" from "The Who's Tommy" and the promise of a rousing finale courtesy of the London musical "We Will Rock You."

But Evan, who's found success on both the Broadway and rock stages said, "It's not something to be scared of."

Everybody -- well into their 60s, maybe even early 70s -- has some kind of rock connection, he explained.

Jenkins' connection to music is longstanding. "I was this little black girl in Brooklyn (N.Y.) with a hairbrush in the mirror in the bathroom, singing my heart out," she said.

She grew up singing in church, started training classically as a child, went to the High School of Music and Art in New York, then on to Temple University where she studied in a jazz program.

She made her Broadway debut in "The Civil War," then starred in the off-Broadway revival of "Godspell." In 2007, she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her role in "(mis)Understanding Mammy -- The Hattie McDaniel Story." Jenkins has done regional theater, toured in the United States and abroad and worked in film and television. "I love it all," she said.

But, she added, there's nothing like standing on stage and hearing a symphony orchestra start an intro. "It is a glorious, glorious thing," she said.

Christiane Noll also grew up with music. "My mom was an opera singer, my dad was a conductor," she said in a recent phone interview.

She's performed with Evan and Jenkins before, although she wasn't with them for a recent "Broadway Rocks" with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. She had just been with pianist Lang Lang in Beijing performing with singers Debbie Gravitte and Doug LaBrecque, both of whom have been on The Maryland Theatre stage with the MSO.

Noll studied music at Carnegie Mellon University and has had a varied musical career. She made her Broadway debut in "Jekyll & Hyde" -- a show in which she shared the stage with Rob Evan. She made her opera debut with Washington National Opera in "The Merry Widow" and performed operetta in "The Student Prince" and "The Pirates of Penzance."

"You're only limited by the limitations you put on yourself in terms of style that you choose," Noll said. "I like to sing whatever I like to sing."

Noll would have been in Hagerstown for last year's MSO Pops concert, but she landed the role of Mother in the new Kennedy Center production of "Ragtime," which went on to Broadway. Her performance earned her Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations, as well as a spot in the Tony Awards telecast.

Evan has performed with Noll and Jenkins for years. "They're two of my closest friends," he said.

The Atlanta native had performed as a kid -- rock bands and All-State Chorus -- but majored in finance and played varsity football at University of Georgia. He intended to go to law school, but a date -- dinner at a French restaurant followed by "Les Misrables," a musical set in France -- changed his plans. "I just cried my eyes out during the show," he said in a phone interview. "'I have to try that.'"

Evan did some regional theater while finishing up at university. He moved to New York "kind of on a whim." Three months later he was in "Les Mis." He was on the road with the show and made his Broadway debut in it. He left it to do other projects -- including "Jekyll & Hyde."

While on tour in Chicago, Evan missed the six-weeks-early birth of the first of his three sons. He told producer Cameron Mackintosh that he needed to be in New York. Mackintosh agreed to try to groom Evan for the role of Jean Valjean, the lead in "Les Mis." He understudied the part for a month then was chosen for the national tour. "We went out with baby in arms," he said.

Dawn Younker, Williamsport High School graduate, also was in that touring company. "Dawn was my Eponine," Evan said.

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