Norm Lewis brings his smooth vocal genius to Wolf Trap

With the National Symphony Orchestra at the performing arts national park, a perfectly cool evening of Broadway hits.

Watching Norm Lewis perform with the National Symphony Orchestra is like borrowing a page from Frank Sinatra doing a Boston Pops telethon covering all of his New York standards in the smooth baritone that they both share.

Add Norm’s Hollywood smile and distinguished grey sideburns topping off a powder blue three-piece suit and you have Broadway’s version of the Smooth Operator at Wolf Trap!

Norm Lewis. Photo by Peter Hurley.

Conductor Steven Reineke in his tenth season was the perfect humorous foil and complement to Norm’s smooth vocal style as they seamlessly performed an informal tag team approach with the 50-plus-piece NSO kicking off the evening with selections from The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the orchestra members performed in short-sleeve white shirts that matched the cool breeze on a perfectly cool evening.

Norm Lewis struck a brilliant balance between the melancholy post-pandemic lyrics from “Life Is” from Zorba — “Life is what you do when you are waiting to die” — to the upbeat reality that in his first performance at Wolf Trap, “life is being onstage with a live audience.”

And as the NSO transitioned into the familiar opening medley of The Phantom of the Opera, Norm humorously footnoted himself as the first Black actor to play the Phantom on Broadway. Later as Lewis strode back on stage with a full-length French police inspector’s trench coat to sing “Stars” from Les Misérables, he reminded the audience that he had played Javert in the musical several times, and was the first to star in the 2006 Broadway revival, making him the first African American actor to play the role in a professional English production.

The Florida native who grew up in Zora Neale Hurston’s all-Black hometown of Eatonville is a triple threat as an actor, theater performer, and vocal genius. He received a Tony nomination for his performance as Porgy in the 2012 Broadway revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess; shared a Grammy nomination in 2019 for Best Musical Theatre Album for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert; and is familiar to movie fans for his acting chops after appearing in the 2020 Spike Lee Joint Da 5 Bloods as the ill-fated vet Eddie who died a gruesome death while seeking wartime gold in the jungles of Viet Nam.

As the NSO transitioned into their final suite of selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Norm again reminded the audience that he portrayed Caiaphas in the Easter Sunday 2018 live televised concert production, which garnered the largest live musical theater audience in history.

“You’re probably sick of seeing me on PBS, but I’m still getting paid,” he remarked to the laughter of his loyal fans. 

Despite his impressive national resume, he did pay tribute to an early opportunity in regional theater — he played the title role in Sweeney Todd at Arlington’s Signature Theatre in 1999 — as he covered “Waiting for Life” from Once on the Island.

After Lewis left the stage following a two-minute standing ovation, he closed the lively 90-minute performance with an “I love you” message to the small but enthusiastic audience: the Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic show tune “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”

Norm Lewis with the National Symphony Orchestra played July 30 and 31, 2021, at the Wolf Trap Filene Center, 1645 Trap Road, Vienna, VA. For information about future performances at Wolf Trap, see the calendar at wolftrap.org/calendar. August and September performances will be full capacity and will follow local, state, and federal government health guidelines.

Tickets may be purchased online at wolftrap.org or by phone at 877.WOLFTRAP. Prices vary by performance and location and are subject to change. Additional information, policies, amenities, and guidelines will be posted to the Wolf Trap website.

SEE ALSO:
Wolf Trap marks 50th anniversary with first live performances in a year and half

PROGRAM

Selections from The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber

“Life Is” from Zorba
John Kander/Fred Ebb

“Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man
Meredith Willson

“Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber/Charles Hart/Richard Stilgoe

“At the End of the Day/Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables
Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schönberg

“Stars” from Les Misérables
Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schönberg

“I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” from Porgy and Bess
George Gershwin

Selections from Sweeney Todd
Stephen Sondheim

“Waiting for Life” from Once on This Island
Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens

“The World Above” from The Little Mermaid
Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Glenn Slater

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid
Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Glenn Slater

Selections from Jesus Christ Superstar
Andrew Lloyd Webber

“Home” from The Wiz
Charlie Smalls

“Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime
Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens

“Being Alive” from Company
Stephen Sondheim

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