Buffalo News

Colm Wilkinson performs show tunes and others at UB's Center for the Arts, Amherst
Toni Ruberto

Standing ovations have lost their meaning in recent years as audiences continue to hand them out like penny candy.

But when a sold-out crowd at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts gave singer Colm Wilkinson a standing ovation at the end of his first song Saturday, it was making a loud statement. The tune, born of the sweetest melody and performed with a tender, heartbreaking passion, was Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera."

It's a song Wilkinson performed thousands of times from the moment he created the role of the Phantom through the 4½ years he played the role in Toronto. Yet he performed it with such fervor and heartache in his voice and body, that it felt like the first time he sang it - and the first time the audience heard it. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I was one of, say, three people in the audience who had never seen Wilkinson perform as the Phantom. It only took that one song for me to regret it. Wilkinson's performance of "Music of the Night" was one of the most stirring pieces I have ever heard and it was worth the price of admission on its own.

Wilkinson also ended his concert with a song from another famous stage role, that of Valjean in "Les Miserables." His rendition of "Bring Him Home" was again exquisite. I'm sure many of us would have been happy if he had only performed show tunes, he is so magnificent singing them. But there's a lot more to Wilkinson.

His glorious tenor took on a quivering, husky tone for "Help Me Make It Through the Night," a country twang for "Tennessee Waltz," and an R&B falsetto for Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," a track Wilkinson covers on his new disc, "Some Of My Best Friends Are Songs."

His Irish heritage was a big part of the set. Wilkinson had fun performing many an Irish drinking song, and added touching folk songs as well, including "Danny Boy."

And there was more to his show than music. Wilkinson has a wonderful natural warmth on stage where he exudes charisma and charm. And he has that Irish gift of gab and storytelling. Every song was introduced with a tale or joke. He even made a quip about his storytelling. "People send me their requests and they ask me to tell stories, I don't know what that says about my singing," he said. And he joked that "Danny Boy" was "a song sung at every Irish gathering - in North America."

The concert, the first of two over the weekend, opened with a short set of mostly country-inspired songs by a man Wilkinson introduced as his best friend, his son Aaron Wilkinson. Father and son also shared the stage for a few tunes, including a stirring rendition of Cat Steven's "Father and Son."

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