Saturday's concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, "Broadway Rocks," was like a good vaudeville show, and like a good vaudeville show, it was packed. There was hardly an empty seat anywhere.
Four Broadway vocalists were on hand to sing songs from modern Broadway shows -- "Hairspray," "Wicked," "Jekyll and Hyde," "Jersey Boys."
And there were surprises. Who knew that "Total Eclipse of the Heart," the 1980s rock anthem, was from a Broadway flop called "Dance of the Vampires," written by the guy who created the rock star Meat Loaf? That was a very talked-about discovery at intermission.
"Total Eclipse," as it was called, was sung by Anne Runolfsson and Rob Evan, who starred in the original Broadway cast of "Jekyll and Hyde" and is also a lead singer with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (A murmur went through the big audience as that association was announced.) Both singers gave it their all. It was like turning the calendar back to the '80s, that era of great and glorious rock duets. It was a delight.
The evening was full of such over-the-top moments.
The highlight was the master of them all, Doug LeBrecque. Le-Brecque, who has played the Phantom a million times, capped the night off with his uncompromising rendition of "The Music of the Night." I don't care if you hate this song, you have no choice but to love it as sung by LeBrecque. It is like being hypnotized. You are powerless.
LeBrecque is a consummate showman, like Al Jolson. He sells the song. He gets into character -- even his face is transformed -- and puts his whole body into it. He has the authority that comes from having played the role so many times on stage. His performance Saturday was astounding, as it always is. We have been lucky enough to see LeBrecque several times here.
The "Phantom" bit was the finale. For encores, I understand that the soloists came out, dressed as hippies, and did "The Age of Aquarius," from "Hair," and then the chorus came out, also dressed as hippies, and did "Let the Sunshine In." Darn, I wish I could have seen that! I hear the crowd went crazy. But for my money there was no topping LeBrecque's "Phantom" act. You just could not.
Matthew Kraemer, the BPO's associate conductor, kept things moving throughout the night. Things never got boring.
Ramona Keller was a last-minute stand-in for Capathia Jenkins, who was previously announced. Keller did a great job with "Proud Mary," the disco hit "I Will Survive," and, even better, "And I Am Tellin' You I'm Not Going," from "Dreamgirls." The sound system did her voice no favors -- it was harsh to the singers, and I think her voice sounded thinner than it was -- but she had great energy, and the audience loved her.
The Philharmonic Chorus, in the news these days because of the controversial dismissal of its director, Doreen Rao, did perfectly well. The chorus' part was not particularly demanding, true, and it was not required to be present in full force. But the singers shone in, say, "The Circle of Life," from "The Lion King."
"Seasons of Love," from "Rent," was stirring, and so was the touching ballad "For Good," from "Wicked." Keller and Runolfsson shared the honors with this one. A medley from "Mamma Mia" and a burst of songs from "Hairspray" helped round out this lively evening of song.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra: Broadway Rocks
Saturday evening with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus in Kleinhans Music Hall, Symphony Circle.