The Buffalo News


Wilkinson wins hearts of music lovers

by Dan Herbeck
News Reviewer

Sometimes, he's the diabolical Phantom of the Opera. Other times, he's Jean Valjean, the tortured hero of the great play "Les Miserables". Friday night, he was mostly just himself, Colm Wilkinson, an Irish rascal who loves to tell jokes and sing his heart out on tunes written by everyone from Muddy Waters to Rodgers & Hammerstein.

And that was plenty good enough for an appreciative audience in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts.

Wilkinson, 64, known worldwide as a stage actor who starred in "Phantom" and "Les Mis", showed off his many other talents in a wide-ranging show that lasted more than two hours.

Now living in Toronto, Wilkinson has made Buffalo a regular stop on his tours in recent years, and that's great news for us. The man is a special talent.

Word seems to be spreading in the community, too, because the UB concert facility was packed with baby boomers.

A dapper man in a black Edwardian suit, Wilkinson hit the ground running with a Phantom favorite, "Music of the Night".

He quickly showed off his amazing voice by hitting and holding an extremely high note, one that would have sent most men to the hospital for what the Buffalo Sabres might call a "lower body injury".

"That song was from 'The Phantom of the Opera'," he deadpanned, as if anyone there didn't already know.

Then came a couple of beautiful show tune standards "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "One Enchanted Evening". But soon after that, Wilkinson strapped on a guitar and rocked his way through Del Shannon's golden oldie "Runaway", reminding us that Wilkinson was once a popular rock singer in Ireland.

Taking swigs of room temperature water between songs, Wilkinson struck up an easy camaraderie with the audience, telling good jokes and bad ones.

You almost got the feeling that he really prefers the easygoing concert atmosphere to appearing in big Broadway-type productions.

Early on in the show, he brought out Susan Gilmour and Patricia O'Callaghan, two singers in sophisticated black cocktail dresses.

Wilkinson might have been a bit too generous in all the stage time he gave the two ladies, but I must admit, they both sang up a storm, especially on 'Stormy Weather' and Sting's 'Fields of Gold'.

Wilkinson put his surprising vocal range on display again and again, on favorites that included John Lennon's "Imagine", the Irish classic "Danny Boy" and the great "Old Man River".

On that song, he really showed his stuff, moving from a deep bass to a very high falsetto over the space of a few notes, and making it look very easy.

He works with a classy seven-piece band, led by pianist Steve Hunter.

Sounding like an Irish pub singer, Wilkinson had great fun churning up some audience participation on rollicking versions of Waters' "I Got My Mojo Working", and the Irish classic, "Whiskey in the Jar".

He then pulled a note out of his pocket and said he had been asked to dedicate a song to an old woman named Mary Brown.

"She is 111", Wilkinson said. "Wait a minute, I read that wrong. She is ill".

You get the idea, a good time was had by all, especially the star performer.

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