Review: ‘Strathmore Annual Spring Gala’ featuring Matthew Morrison and Shoshana Bean

Though it was storming outside, the stars shone brightly inside for Strathmore’s Annual Spring Gala Saturday night. Raising funds for the educational and artistic programs that impact over 30,000 students annually, the 2019 gala was a colorful showcase of the indelible impact of the performing arts and importance of arts education across the country.

Headlining the evening’s concert performance were the singularly talented Matthew Morrison (interviewed here by DCMTA’s Nicole Hertvik) and Shoshana Bean. The Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe-nominated Matthew Morrison may be best known in popular culture as Mr. Schuester from the television show Glee, but the Broadway community will know him for his twenty-year stage career in roles such as Link Larkin in the original Broadway cast of Hairspray, Fabrizio Nacarelli in The Light in the Piazza (which gained him a Tony nomination), Lieutenant Cable in a Lincoln Center production of South Pacific, and most recently as J. M. Barrie in Finding Neverland.

Equally impressive is Shoshana Bean, a force of stage and recording studio. Best known for taking over the role of Elphaba from Idina Menzel in Wicked, she made her Broadway debut in Godspell, was an original cast member of Hairspray in 2002 with Morrison, and is currently on Broadway as Jenna in Waitress. Bean’s vocal talent has also been showcased off-stage in four albums and in performances around the globe with artists such as Ariana Grande, Postmodern Jukebox, and Jason Robert Brown.

Kicking off the evening with a burst of color and sparkle was Shoshana Bean, who set the air on fire from her first note. Earthy, fluid, and unique, her powerful voice punched out from the stage. Starting with 3 numbers from her latest album—the Billboard Jazz Chart-topping Spectrum—Bean put on a master class of control, technique, and range. From the low and sinking grooves of “Remember the Day” and “Strange Thunder” to the soaring whistle register riffs of “I Wanna Be Around,” Bean was a one-woman wall of glorious sound.

Heavily influenced by Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Barbara Streisand, you could hear how each artist left their fingerprints on Bean’s musical style and soul. Paying tribute to them, she next switched to a quiet take on “The Way You Look Tonight” accompanied by her Music Director, Producer, pianist, and co-writer, David Cook. A flirty rendition, it took the pure, nostalgic melody and infused it with playful experimentation.

Switching back to Spectrum for the remainder of her set, Bean showed off her vocal creativity with a explorative rendition of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” originally from Camelot, before bringing down the house with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” in tribute to Aretha Franklin. If there was a physical and musical manifestation of the word prowess, Bean would be it.

A quick change of pianist and the evening moved into an entirely different feel; from jazz club with Bean to Broadway stage with the one and only Matthew Morrison. Starting with a collection of ballads from his Where It All Began album, “The Lady is Tramp,” “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver (in honor of his 18-month old son), and “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady all showcased Morrison’s longtime love of the performing arts.

Matthew Morrison. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.
Matthew Morrison. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

A skilled dancer and boundlessly energetic entertainer, he filled every inch of the stage with personality, cheek, and flair, especially in a West Side Story medley featuring Jet Song / Something’s Coming / Cool / America / Maria, and a Gene Kelly-inspired “Singin’ in the Rain” that was as joyous as it was exuberant. Much like musicals themselves, which turn to song when an emotion is stronger than words’ ability to convey it, Morrison seemed moved to dance when his music needed to be carried farther than the notes could take it.

Highlights from the remainder of his set (too numerous to mention all of) included a Finding Neverland medley with Strathmore Children’s Chorus and Young Artists of America singers (Neverland / Stronger), “A Whole New World” duet with Bean, and a vivacious Hairspray medley (Good Morning Baltimore / Nicest Kids in Town / Welcome to the ’60s / Big, Blonde, and Beautiful / Without Love / You Can’t Stop the Beat) all proving what no one in attendance had any doubt of, that Morrison possesses what the very best Broadway performers have: the ability to radiate a story from every inch of themselves.

The concert concluded with an encore of “This is Me,” which personified the power of arts education. Joined again by the Strathmore Children’s Chorus and Young Artists of America (the soloists in the finale were from YAA), Morrison and Bean surrounded the audience with some of the very members benefiting from the Strathmore’s educational programs. With everyone in attendance a strong advocate and believer in the importance of the arts, it was heart-swelling to hear and be surrounded by the voices of the future.

After the cheers died down and the doors opened, the evening transitioned into an electric after-party in the Strathmore lobby. Featuring the grooves of Mark G. Meadows Quintet and the lively vocals of Anjali Taneja, the evening ended the same way it began, with soul-rejuvenating music and an inspiring show of support for the arts, Strathmore’s artistic programs, and the importance of arts education across the country.

The Strathmore Annual Spring Gala was a one night only event on May 4th, 2019 at the Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD. For more information on Strathmore’s educational programs, visit them online. And for information on future performances at the Strathmore, call (301) 581-5100 or go to the Strathmore’s Upcoming Events page.