Norm Lewis is an icon. This is an indisputable fact. There are few others who have made such an impact on the way we view certain roles. His impressive bio includes such credits as the first African American Phantom on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera, a famous stint as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables (which was, thankfully, recorded for posterity and public consumption as a 25th Anniversary Concert) as well as his most recent DC excursion as conman Harold Hill in the critically-acclaimed Broadway Center Stage production of The Music Man.
The Kennedy Center’s Renée Fleming VOICES series was the perfect showcase for Lewis’ versatile vocals. The audience was enthralled from the time he emerged on stage singing “My Favorite Things” all the way through to his encore of Funny Girl’s “People.” Including a variety of standards and Broadway hits, Lewis’ selections contained a little something for everyone.
His rich baritone makes fun of the limits of a natural vocal range and is adaptable to a variety of styles. Of course, most people were there to see him sing the most popular songs from the most popular roles. Personally, I am obsessed with Lewis’ version of the pious and merciless Inspector Javert in Les Mis. “Stars” did not disappoint, but it was his take on “Bring Him Home” that gave me goosebumps. It was one of those performances that was so transcendent that you want to put it in a little box and carry it around with you to listen to on rough days.
His “Music of the Night” was as tender and practically perfect as you would expect. Vocal control is a real strength of Lewis’. Sometimes you’d expect him to slide off a note, but he’d hop right back on, taking those notes to new and exciting places. His role in Phantom was well-suited to this unique skill. Lewis’ reprisal of “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man was exhausting and impressive—this mile-a-minute number was sung as he walked through the aisles engaging the audience. Other highlights sung in this genre included Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream” and Sweeney Todd’s “My Friends.”
Norm Lewis’ banter is warm, containing anecdotes that will delight musical theater fans. For those (poor, misguided souls) who don’t prefer the theatrical arts, Lewis included a number of standards and popular songs. His rendition of DC native Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was particularly poignant. Classics such as anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and holiday hit “I Wonder as I Wander” were present and performed in a way that only Norm Lewis could perform them.
This was truly an unforgettable night for concertgoers; a rare opportunity to experience one of theater’s preeminent superstars at the height of his career. Though nominated for a Tony in 2012 for his role in the refreshed version of the opera Porgy and Bess, he has yet to win the coveted award. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that it’s only a matter of time until he clears this hurdle. As usual, the Renée Fleming VOICES series provides DC audiences a unique opportunity to engage with talented and high-caliber Broadway performers in a setting that feels grand, yet intimate. As part of this series, Norm Lewis certainly delivered.
Running Time: One hour and 35 minutes, with no intermission.
The Kennedy Center Presents Renée Fleming VOICES: An Evening with Norm Lewis played for one night only on February 29, 2020, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For more information on upcoming performances in the Renée Fleming VOICES series, go online.