‘Ashley Brown’s Broadway’ at The Music Center at Strathmore by Tiffany Draut

“I had the best time in Bethesda!” said Ashley Brown of her concert tonight—a sentiment that sums up the audience’s enthusiastic reaction as well. Brown began the evening earlier with a flub, as she stated how excited she was to be here in Baltimore; the audience immediately corrected her, and Brown, a consummate performer, played it off and to the delight of the audience, turned it into the good-natured joke of the very-successful evening.

Ashley Brown and the BSO.   Photo by Jimmy Asnes.
Ashley Brown and the BSO. Photo by Jimmy Asnes.

Ashley Brown is a veteran Broadway performer, having played “Belle” on Broadway in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as well as being the original “Mary Poppins” on Broadway. She has also performed with many symphonies and orchestras around the country, gaining a well-deserved reputation as a charismatic, engaging performer. Similarly, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jack Everly, is also known for their fun, engaging Pops concerts, which truly made for a delightful night. Brown was also joined by Matt Branic, Joseph Perkins, Jr., and Bret Shuford, who sang various duets with her, as well as acting out various songs.

The concert opened with the orchestra playing a medley of various Broadway standards, to which Brown entered, in a stunning purple gown. She beautifully sang a medley that included “With a Song in My Heart’ and “Just in Time,” and then continued to sing a medley of “Smile” and “Make Someone Happy.”  Brown’s voice is clear and lovely, both strong and sweet at the same time, which made the “Smile” medley very captivating.

The evening proceeded with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra playing various Broadway suites and overtures, and Brown singing a variety of Broadway standards, including “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma!, “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate, and “Tonight” from West Side Story, among others.  Brown displays a solid understanding of the songs, singing them in a winning, beautiful way.

Brown really shines when she goes back to her Disney roots: her rendition of “Feed the Birds” was soaring and touching. Following that, she sang a medley of classic Disney songs, which was truly the highlight of the night. There were, of course, various songs from Mary Poppins which she more than did justice to, and “Part of Your World” gave me chills.

Part of what makes Brown such a great interpreter of song is how much she acts when she sings: during “I’ve Got No Strings,” she pretended to be a marionette and modified her voice to fit the song, or during “He’s a Tramp,” Brown made Everly the “tramp” and sang directly to him, much to the delight of the audience. The medley ended with, of course, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, which truly showcased Brown’s voice—the ending high note was strong and clear as a bell.

Ashley Brown as Belle in Disney’s 'Beauty and the Beast.' © 2005, Joan Marcus.
Ashley Brown as Belle in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ © 2005, Joan Marcus.

Part of what made tonight the “best time in Bethesda,” in addition to Brown’s fantastic voice, was her superb showmanship. She didn’t simply walk on stage and sing, she acted and sang and told stories, drawing the audience in and constantly surprising them. For example, for the song “Le Jazz Hot,” Brown and the three  men came on stage in in top hats and tuxedos, doing jazz moves, then once Brown began the song in earnest, the men surrounded her, and tore off her tuxedo to reveal a sultry nightclub dress, a move which certainly delighted the audience.  Similarly, after nearly ever number, Brown changed her dress—each one more lovely than the last—a habit that caused Everly to remark, as Brown was offstage changing for her last song, that the whole concert was “merely an excuse for about 15 different gowns.”

Brown’s final song of the night was the love standard “My Funny Valentine.” Her valentine? Her French bulldog, Eddie. Brown crooned the song (in yet another stunning dress) to Eddie, as she held him and danced with him. The audience loved it, and could not stop laughing.

All these various touches—costumes, introducing her dog and so on—combined with Brown’s vocal skill and incredible charisma, certainly made for “the best time in Bethesda.”

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with one intermission.

Ashley Brown’s Broadway plays through February 24, 2013 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.

Ashley Brown’s website.


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