Colm Wilkinson at the Broadway Cabaret Festival
By Michael Dale

Colm Wilkinson"Please, sing along, please clap your hands," Colm Wilkinson kept coaxing the audience during his concert engagement on evening two of Town Hall's 4th Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival.

But despite the star's genial invitation, I doubt if many in the enthusiastic crowd actually could have sung along with the Irish musical theatre star as his hearty voice roared through the title song of Man of La Mancha or hit sterling, stunningly controlled head notes throughout Les Miserables' "Bring Him Home."

And I daresay if anyone did try taking him up on the offer and sang along to his passionate "This Is The Moment" (Jekyll & Hyde) or rhythmically clap to his beautifully sincere "Anthem" (Chess) we might have had an old fashioned donnybrook break out in the middle of the auditorium. No, attentive silence was the way this crowd wanted to enjoy the robust vocals and vivid phrasing from this beloved entertainer, in his first New York gig since appearing as the original Jean Valjean in the Broadway company of Les Mis twenty years ago.

But though musical theatre selections provided the bulk of the evening's program (including a fun swing arrangement of "Hello, Young Lovers" and a - yes, I'll say it - haunting "Music of the Night") the evening included a nice variety of styles.

"Surprised?," the singer asked the crowd as he strummed a guitar and sunk throaty bluegrass tones into "The Tennessee Waltz." And while a perfectly heartbreaking "Danny Boy" and a rousing Irish drinking song like "Whiskey In The Jar" would naturally be expected, other unexpected pleasures included an intensely growled "House of the Rising Sun" and a Ray Charles medley ("Take These Chains From My Heart," "Georgia on My Mind") that took on a special meaning after he explained the thrill he experienced while getting to sing in front of his idol at the Kennedy Center Honors. ("I have a video tape of Ray Charles applauding me!")

Music director Steve Hunter led the 6-piece band and while the star took a few breaks during the evening, additional solos were very capably handled by the torchy Alana Bridgewater ("Stormy Weather," "As Long As He Needs Me") and pop vocalist Susan Gilmour ("Don't Cry Out Loud," "Being Alive").

But while the two ladies were appropriately appreciated, the evening belonged to Wilkinson, a captivating performer whether he's cracking a dark-humored joke about The Silence of The Lambs (though somebody should let him know it already has been made into a musical) or reverently pleaing for a peaceful world through Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and John Lennon's "Imagine,".

Photo of Colm Wilkinson by Genevieve Rafter Keddy

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