The Chronicle Herald

Concert beyond Broadway, truly

Arts Reporter

I've been to enough shows called Broadway and Beyond to be gun-shy of anything "new" under that heading. They've all been Broadway, but in terms of performance style, few have been beyond about what you would expect.

Until Saturday night, when Colm Wilkinson headlined a show produced by Phantom of the Opera's Garth Drabinsky, backed by a crackerjack seven-piece band and singers Gretha Boston and Susan Gilmour.

Paced by Wilkinson's indelible, ear-searing, sky-soaring tenor and supported by pianist/band leader Steve Hunter, this show was so far beyond that the Broadway part seemed an afterthought. Everything Wilkinson, the band and those two marvellous women brought to the art of high-powered entertainment on the Cohn stage came from the same place star fire comes from.

He opened up to resounding cheers from the packed auditorium with Music of the Night with glory in his voice. His voice is unique, a mixture of power, natural talent, a high degree of artistic discipline and the stage savvy of a thoroughly professional stage actor and singer.

His diction is a model of clarity, not a word smudged in two hours of singing, and the way his chest voice modulates into his sweet, high head voice is a marvel of art and grit.

A drama king from hair to toenails, Wilkinson creates and then capitalizes on moments, such as the end of Music of the Night when he held a note so high and so long the audience went into the kind of out-of-their-minds frenzy high C's excite in Italian opera fans.

Wilkinson sang up to that sort of glory often in the show that followed but not so often you got tired of it. Even his habit of letting the pitch fall off a fraction of a second before he cuts off a final high note at the peak of its crescendo was absorbed in the glory of it all.

A consummate performer, Wilkinson is an affable and self-deprecating MC. His song intros were witty and he has the gift of talking to the audience as though he were talking to each individually.

For his second tune, he picked up his guitar, strummed a few apologetic chords, then launched into a marvellous version of Tennessee Waltz. In the middle of it, Hunter broke into a gloriously bluesy, honky-tonk, barrelhouse piano solo that brought down the house.

And so it went. Friendly, wonderfully entertaining, Wilkinson resurrected Hello Young Lovers and Some Enchanted Evening before introducing Boston and Gilmour, who sang And The World Goes Round (Boston) and Maybe This Time from Cabaret (Gilmour).

Later in the program, Boston mesmerized us all with Stormy Weather and a moving rendition of God Bless The Child. Wilkinson sang Danny Boy to accompaniment of piano and Amy Laing on cello with just a shade of synthi sweetening from keyboardist Grant Slater, and then delighted the crowd with Whiskey in the Jar.

Before he was done, he sang songs from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and finished off with Bring Him Home from Les Mis. Which leaves nothing left to say about this extraordinary concert except a very respectful, very hearty reprise of What Ho The Daddy-O!.

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