Sarah Brightman in Concert: Dreamchaser World Tour – September 21, 2013

From her early days as a member of the dance troupe Hot Gossip to her success as a classical crossover recording artist, with a brief segue into musical theatre in Cats and Phantom of the Opera, Sarah Brightman is perhaps one of the best known, and best-selling sopranos in the world. As stated in a previous blog, Sarah Brightman is one of my favorite recording artists, and one of the few who tours regularly in the United States; I first discovered her while listening to the Original London cast recording of Phantom of the Opera, and continued to follow her solo recording career. She is credited with creating the classical crossover genre, as her albums have featured songs (both original and covers) that blend classical singing with pop, rock, and world music influences, and sung in various languages. Many of her albums are thematic, with the songs creating an atmosphere that complements the theme – Dive had a watery theme, the moon was a central theme in La Luna and Harem had an Arabian influence. Her latest album, Dreamchaser, continues this trend, as it touches upon space exploration, a very relevant theme for Ms. Brightman, as she has announced her intention to travel to space in 2015.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

I have been fortunate to have seen her in concert several times, and her concerts, much like her albums have been extraordinary and eclectic. The New York stop on the Dreamchaser tour was at Radio City Music Hall, where I had first seen her sing in concert; if this album and accompanying tour is to be her final concert before her trip into space, it is curious and somewhat fitting that my concert going experience has come full circle. Also has stated previously, the American leg of this tour was to have taken place in February, but had been postponed until now, for reasons unexplained – this postponement was actually a bit fortuitous, as it had snowed heavily on the intended date I was to attend her concert. As I am a member of her official fan club, I was able to purchase my ticket during the pre-sale period, which allowed me to obtain a good seat in the orchestra section (left side) at Radio City Music Hall. Upon entering the historic concert venue and being ushered to my seat, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of being back there after so many years, as her concerts were usually held at Madison Square Garden, which is a much larger venue than Radio City Music Hall.

It was apparent that this concert was a more intimate experience than her previous concerts, as there were four musicians on stage and two backup dancers; also new to this concert was the large screen that projected thematic images mainly space or nature-related, as well as the use of different colored spotlights that crisscrossed the stage, which emphasized the ethereal aspect of the Dreamchaser album.

Her concert started off with the first three songs from Dreamchaser – appropriately, as the curtain raised Ms. Brightman appeared in a full length black dress aloft on a platform with an ethereal  blue-white light behind her as she sang “Angel”, which segued to a colorful nebula imagery for “One Day Like This”. A scarlet tinged sunrise accompanied “Glósoli”; the two backup dancers performed as Ms. Brightman reappeared in a white full length dress to sing “Hijo De La Luna” and “La Luna” amid a full moon. Futuristic space images reappeared for “Eperdu” followed by electrifying lightning images (red, blue and purple) which accompanied “It’s A Beautiful Day”; the bright white light returned with Ms. Brightman once again lifted a few feet from the stage for “Ave Maria”. At this point, she introduced tenor Erkan Aki to sing the duet “Canto Della Terra” for which there was water drop images projected behind them; the end of the first act had her singing “Nessun Dorma” on the raised platform with the close up image of a planet behind her.

Dreamchaser Act 1

After the brief intermission (during which I encountered old and new friends who were also in attendance), the second act opened with “Closer” with Ms. Brightman flanked by the two backup dancers, with black and white circles projected on the screens, creating a dizzying effect. The song “Breathe Me” brought back the space theme, with the screens projecting a lone satellite traveling through the universe. The screens were not used for the next quartet of songs, but rather left most the stage in darkness, with only a line of spotlights as the source of light in descending color order: purple and blue for “Figlio Perduto”, green for “Kaze No Toorimichi”, golden-yellow for “Scarborough Fair”, and a brief return to blue for “A Song of India”. This contrast in lighting was inspired, as the screen shone dark red as the pulsating rhythm of “Phantom of the Opera” fill the air (and greeting with much cheering) – this was the only song that harkened back to her musical theatre days, and perhaps this is the first time she did not sing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” (the Phantom section of her concert usually included “Twisted Every Way”, which segued into “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, followed by “Phantom of the Opera” and initially included “Music of the Night”). Once again, tenor  Erkan Aki reappeared to sing the Phantom’s portion of the duet (as an ardent fan of Phantom of the Opera, I have heard many singers tackle this song, and Mr. Aki was pretty good). The final song was “Time to Say Goodbye”, best known as a duet, but she sang it as a solo with the screens showing red candles floating upside down, to which fireworks were added during the final chorus.

For the encore section, the space motif returned with a star-dotted black sky and an occasional shooting star for “Venus and Mars” with the stars swirling as if we were about to make a jump into hyperspace (I’m also a huge Star Wars fan, and that’s what the imagery looked like to me). Her final song was “A Question of Honor” (and quite possibly my favorite song of hers) – the screens initially showed the classic image of the bottom portion of the earth, which soon changed to relate the early space race between the Americans and Russians, with historical footage from that era. This was a brilliant use of imagery that complemented and brought new meaning to the song, as it was originally the official song for a boxing match, with lyric references to two opposing sides colliding. This was a spectacular end to her concert, which was greeting with cheers, applause and a rousing standing ovation.

Dreamchaser Act 2

Seeing Sarah Brightman in concert is always a visual and audio feast, and the Dreamchaser concert was one worth remembering – while not as elaborate as previous tours, the sparse and intimate atmosphere was suited to the venue and created a unique journey through space, bringing to life Ms. Brightman’s dream of space travel, a dream I hope she fulfills.

A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers: Thoughts on Romeo and Juliet – August 31, 2013

So as summer comes to a close, so does my (apparent) Summer of Seeing Shakespearean Tragedies, which started (interestingly enough) with the tragicomic pastiche The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady, a show I sincerely hope has a future in an off-Broadway (or even at a Broadway) venue. This inventive musical mash-up soon led to the more serious undertaking of the Bard’s work, first off with the brilliant (nearly) one man Broadway production of Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, followed (quite) closely with an off-off Broadway production of Hamlet at the Seeing Place Theater, which was equally brilliant. Of course, logic would have dictated that in this Shakespeare binge, I should have made an attempt to attend the Shakespeare in the Park productions of The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labor Lost but I hadn’t; nevertheless, I have started to make amends for this lapse in absorbing all things Shakespeare, starting with an early preview of Romeo and Juliet, currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater for a limited run through January 12, 2014.

Romeo and Juliet marquee

This tragedy of a pair of star-crossed lovers from rival families is undoubtedly a familiar tale, having been adapted countless times on film, television, and on stage (most notably West Side Story); I’m also quite sure in saying that this play has been read and studied (and re-read and re-studied) during the course of an academic tenure, so it’s pretty safe to say everyone knows the story, or is at least familiar with the story (and can quote some of the famous lines / monologues). This adaptation is set in modern times and in modern dress (Romeo enters the stage on a real motorcycle), and adds a racial element in its casting, as those in the House of Montague are white and those of the House of Capulet are black, with the exception of Nurse, who is white. This difference in skin color is not commented upon during the production (as the play adheres to the original Shakespearean text) though the difference does add credence to the tension that exists between the two families.

Two Houses

The set design is sparse, with an assemblage of chairs, various prop pieces, and a movable three-piece set that serves as the back wall; of course, there is the levitating set piece that represents Juliet’s balcony. The lighting and sound design (there is ambient music from a lone cello and percussion throughout) is striking and dynamic, and adds urgency to the tension that occurs throughout the play. The cast was astounding, especially leads Orlando Bloom (in his Broadway debut) and Condola Rashad as the titular Romeo and Juliet, who were both passionate and nuanced in their respective roles, and did have a good amount of chemistry together. Other standouts were Brent Carver as Friar Laurence and Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse, both of whom were sympathetic enablers / accomplices (depending on how you interpret their actions) to the young lovers.

Romeo and Juliet cast list

The stage door experience was a good one, and as it was the first matinee performance, and the first two-performance day (the production had started previews earlier in the week), it was not known whether or not Orlando Bloom (who was clearly the box office draw for this production) would be emerging from the stage door to greet the fans who would undoubtedly be waiting. I was mildly surprised that the stage door area was not teeming with people – as there are photos from after the first preview performance when the entire block was closed off due to the phalanx of fans waiting at the stage door (most of whom I suspect had not seen the show and were just waiting outside to see Mr. Bloom). Anyway, the majority of the cast did emerge from the stage door (and I managed to secure a spot near the stage door entrance), and multitudes of cheers erupted when they did, the loudest came when Mr. Bloom came out (which was a lovely gesture, though I’m sure he felt obliged to do so, as he is the most recognizable name in the cast, generally speaking). He was lovely and gracious to those at the stage door, though as he was signing playbills, it was made known by the theater’s security guard that Mr. Bloom would just be signing playbills and not posing with anyone (though we were free to take pictures of him), which is understandable, as everyone (myself included) would want a photo with him. Thankfully everyone at the stage door was well-behaved and courteous to one another (I’ve had experiences when this was not the case, and people behind me would push ahead to get a better glance at the actors).

Orlando Bloom

All in all, it was a good production, though I’m probably not the best judge of such things, as my viewership of Shakespeare on stage is limited. I do recommend seeing this production, as it’s rare (at least to my knowledge) that this play is revived on Broadway. No doubt, I’ll be increasing my Shakespeare viewership this fall, when the upcoming productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III by the Shakespeare’s Globe are set to play in repertory at the Belasco Theater, with an all-male cast (adhering to the tradition set forth in Shakespeare’s time).

For more information about this production can be found on the official site: http://www.romeoandjulietbroadway.com/

Romeo and Juliet signed playbill