Colm Wilkinson More Than 'Les Miz'

By Marcia Fulmer
Entertainment Editor

I went Saturday evening because I admired Colm Wilkinson's theatrical ability and, I'll admit, to see the man who created one of the most unforgettable characters in musical theater history.

I went to get a look at Jean Valjean.

What I -- and the full house in Goshen College Sauder Concert Hall -- got was an absolutely amazing evening of theater delivered by a man who connects immediately with an audience on several levels. It was a solid combination of stunning musical talent and irresistible Irish charm.

OK. So we all -- at least those who have seen the 10th anniversary concert DVD of "Les Miserables" because not everyone could have made it to Broadway -- know that the Irish singer/actor has an incredible voice.

What, I will bet, few of us know is that not only can he bring tears with an emotional ballad or show tune, but that he also can really "get down" with the blues and rock and roll, a musical genre which was his first -- and continuing -- love.

And not too many individual performers can get a roomful of predominantly older listeners clapping in rhythm and singing (shouting) back responses in tunes associated with the late Ray Charles, who just happens to be a Wilkinson hero.

I have to say I do not think there is any kind of music that this man cannot sing ... and sing as well or better than anyone else.

Most artists presenting solo concerts opt for some kind of opening act. In a recent concert in Kalamazoo, Bernadette Peters made up the second half of the symphony concert. Ditto pop greats like Tony Bennett who share musical time with their instrumental ensembles.

Not so Mr. Wilkinson.

For 21/2 hours, minus a 15-20 minute intermission, he sang ... and sang ... and sang in a program so varied that it did, most certainly, provide something for every musical taste. And his six-member band supplied exactly the instrumental support he required.

Beginning with a theatrical entrance -- he came down the aisle in a long cloak carrying a turn-of-the-century lantern -- and opened with "Music of the Night," a certified show-stopper (and saved by most singers for their big finish) from a musical in which he originated the title role, "Phantom of the Opera."

Before the evening ended, he gave listeners the songs they expected -- "This Is the Moment" from "Jekyll & Hyde," his own Broadway highlights medley of "Some Enchanted Evening," "Somewhere" and "Old Man River," plus "The Impossible Dream" and "I, Don Quixote" from "Man of La Mancha,'' "Anthem" from "Chess," "Over the Rainbow" and, from "Les Miz," "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables."

In between, Wilkinson picked up his guitar -- yep, guitar! -- and put his own vocal stamp on "Tennessee Waltz," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Red Sails in the Sunset" (a definitely up-tempo arrangement in honor of his parents who met while his dad was playing that tune), a quartet of Ray Charles songs, loud and fast and, followed immediately by a haunting rendition of "Danny Boy" which segued into a trio of "Irish drinking songs."

Among the show tunes in the second half was a burning version of The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." "Momma Don't Allow No ....." was the official end of the concert, but instant standing ovations (and unending applause) brought the singer back for two encores including John Lennon's "Imagine."

Lest the crowd feared Wilkinson would bow finally without giving them his signature song, one written especially for him, the Irish-born Toronto resident returned in his red and blue "Les Miz" uniform, his Broadway costume, and delivered "Bring Him Home" with all the clarity and tone it deserved.

This after singing full out for more than two hours.

It was the most amazing performance I can remember.

And it wasn't over. After a short break, Wilkinson moved to the lobby where he signed his latest CD, "Some of My Best Friends Are Songs," and posed for pictures, then headed back into the auditorium where Goshen High School Crimsonaires and Goshen College theater students were waiting for a session of questions and answers.

The advice he gave was solid and designed to make those heading for a theatrical career aware that it often has more downs than ups but, if no other career option is viable, it is ultimately the most rewarding.

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