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Review #1: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: ‘Broadway Divas’

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What does one call a group of Broadway divas? After tonight’s performance of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Jack Everly, “Dreamgirls” seems like perhaps the appropriate designation. Christina Bianco, Mandy Gonzalez, N’Kenge, and Kristen Plumley were the BSO’s guest divas, and more than lived up to the diva name, with their humor, acting, and of course, larger-than-life voices as they sang their way through some of Broadway’s favorite diva songs.

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Christine Bianco, a Drama Desk Award nominated actress and singer, has gained viral fame for her impressions of various divas (both on-and off-Broadway)—sometimes various impressions in just one song! Mandy Gonzalez has starred in both In the Heights and Wicked, and can currently be seen on TV’s Madame Secretary. N’Kenge originated the role of Mary Wells in Motown: the Musical on Broadway, and also appeared in Sondheim on Sondheim on Broadway. Kristen Plumley has performed with the New York City Opera, and various other opera companies through the country, and performs with various symphonies internationally.

Jack Everly opened the concert with the Baltimore Symphony performing the Broadway Divas Prelude,” a medley of Broadway’s greatest hits. The energy and enthusiasm of the symphony was palpable, and really carried throughout the night, as they performed pieces such as a Suite from Chicago with very distinct personality and verve. Everly and the Symphony were a perfect counterpoint to the large personalities of the divas themselves.

While the women sang various group numbers (including a hilarious “There is Nothing Like a Dame” as their opener, and an intriguing version of the torch song “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man”), the highlights were their solo numbers.

Mandy Gonzalez’s intense, aching version of “I Dreamed a Dream” highlighted her powerful voice and was one of the better renditions of the popular standards.

Likewise, Kristen Plumley’s plum, rich soprano was shown to fine effect with the lovely “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

N’Kenge brought down the house with her emotional yet powerful version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Her beautiful voice was raw with need, yet still strong—and oh my goodness those sustained high notes! It was indeed a highlight.

As a contrast, Christine Bianco did some of her hilarious diva impressions, singing songs in the style of Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, and Judy Garland, and then in the end singing one song in all of the styles! She had the audience in stitches with her impressions—they were all spot on.

The final song of the night was the ever-popular “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Yet having all four of the women sing it made it seem new again, and was a fitting end to a great concert. Despite the song, everyone left wishing they we didn’t have to “Let [them] Go”!

Running Time: Two hours, with a 20-minute intermission.

Broadway Divas  plays through Sunday, April 3, 2016, at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall – 1212 Cathedral Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 783-8000, or purchase them online.

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