‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ With The National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center

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For more than 30 years, the music of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg has uplifted, inspired, and invoked passion in audiences and artists alike. Under the baton of conductor Steven Reineke, the National Symphony Orchestra did full justice to the epic canvas of this legendary musical team in its Do You Hear the People Sing concert Friday evening.

Terrance Mann. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Terrance Mann. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Terrance Mann’s commanding and convivial presence provided many of the concert’s highlights. His opening “Bui Doi” from Miss Saigon, backed by the University of Maryland Concert Choir and the Children’s Chorus of Washington, was moving and passionate. As Miss Saigon’s Engineer, Mann delivered a ferociously cynical (and fun) rendition of “The American Dream”. Mann’s Thenardier in “Master of the House” in Les Misérables (aided and abetted by the wonderfully comedic Kathy Voytko) may rank as my all-time favorite interpretation of the role. Where was Mann when they were casting the movie? Mann’s interpretation of “Stars” from his Tony-nominated Javert in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables, was truly chill-inducing. Mann’s performance and vocal fireworks showed the passion and range of the obsessive inspector, proving that some things just get better with age.

Lea Salonga, who originated the role of Kim in Miss Saigon and created one of Broadway’s most enduring Eponines, provided a charming and graceful focus to the evening. Salonga’s partnership with the NSO is the perfect marriage of a pitch perfect, versatile, and passionate vocalist with an equally versatile and dynamic orchestra. Two of my favorite pairings were “I’d Give My Life for You” and “Too Much for One Heart” – both from Miss Saigon – and both showcase pieces for Salonga’s emotional, powerful belt with some soaring arrangements for the NSO. These arrangements, coupled with a passionate “Last Night of the World” duet by Salonga and Eric Kunze (Marius, Les Misérables, Chris, Miss Saigon)  and a passionate “Maybe” fiercely rendered by Kathy Voytko, reminded me of how beautiful the music of Miss Saigon truly is and makes me look forward to the coming Broadway revival with great anticipation.

Eric Kunze. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Eric Kunze. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Marie Zamora. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Marie Zamora. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Lea Salonga. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Lea Salonga. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

In addition to shining a huge spotlight on blockbuster hits Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, the NSO’s Do You Hear the People Sing offered new interpretations of music from La Révolution Francaise, Martin Guerre, and The Pirate Queen. Parisian singer and actress Marie Zamora, who originated the role of Cosette in the Paris production of Les Misérables, offered a passionate and rich “Au Petit Matin” as doomed Queen Marie Antoinette, demonstrating how the music of Boublil and Schönberg transcends a language barrier. Zamora and Salonga delivered a stirring “On My Own” in French and English that showcased the universality of that haunting anthem to unrequited love.

Kathy Voytko. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Kathy Voytko. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

I saw The Pirate Queen in its short-lived Broadway run and was pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous the music is when stripped away from the glitz and glamour of the “Riverdance” style that impeded the original production. The National Symphony Orchestra unmasked the beauty of the “Entr’acte” with lilting strings and a rollicking Irish dance. Voytko’s rendition of the power ballad “Woman” was raw and impassioned. Kunze and Voytko’s “If I Said I Loved You” was passionate in its simplicity and demonstrated why this musical deserves a second chance at telling its story.

One of the very few missteps in this concert celebrating the works of Boublil and Schönberg occurred at the end of Act One. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables is arguably one of the most performed ballads in contemporary musical theatre. Its rawness and its simplicity is what gives it strength. As performed in a duet by Salonga and Voytko, “I Dreamed a Dream” started out beautifully, as both stars sang it in a straight-forward and faithful manner, but went woefully off track when the stars riffed into an “American Idol” style interpretation that made the song about them as performers rather than about the material itself.

Thankfully, the bulk of Do You Hear the People Sing was about celebrating the music and the material. In a wonderful moment that summed up the power of the music and its impact on generations of theatre-goers, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg appeared on stage to thunderous ovations from the audience before a stirring “Do You Hear the People Sing” that united the earnest and lovely voices of the Children’s Chorus of Washington, the University of Maryland Concert Choir, the five lead vocalists, and the National Symphony Orchestra. The Concert Hall rang with the glorious harmonies and the rousing and timeless “Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” May the music of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg offer us many more tomorrows.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Do You Hear the People Sing plays through March 28, 2015 at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. To purchase tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or order them online.

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