Concert Review: Singapore Symphony Orchestra : To Broadway, With Love | The Flying Inkpot
Lara Maigue, vocalist
Carla Guevara-Laforteza, vocalist
Poppert Bernadas, vocalist
Sean Ghazi, vocalist
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Gerard Salonga, conductor
Mickey Munoz, producer and writer
Janice Dee, director
1 September 2022
Esplanade Concert Hall
Review by Aileen Tang
The “inconvenience” of concerts clashing on the same evenings is a sure sign that the arts are slowly livening up here. We’re relearning what it’s like to agonise over which production to take in or which organisation to support in a weekend where every performing arts venue is occupied.
But what we’ve been missing and yearning for here are the musicals – the classic Broadway and West End, and the Mega-Musicals. From the breathtaking opening number and the affirming character experiences to the coy (or heartbreaking) almost-love song and the unmistakeable 11 o’clock number, Musical Theatre in all its incredulous break-into-song-at-any-time style is exactly what we need. We need to feel we’re able to express our deepest emotions; if too strong for words then in song, if too strong for song, then in dance – as the old Broadway saying goes.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s POPs concert, To Broadway, With Love, was supposed to play in 2020, but we all know what happened then. So 2 years on, Broadway-playing SSO is back and the wait was well worth it.
The audience was a different crowd from those who “come to the Symphony” every Friday night, possibly like-minded kindred spirits who have also missed the magic and majesty of Musical Theate.
From the 1st few brassy chords of the “Broadway Overture”, we knew that this was going to be one concert that would be full of our favourite show tunes – even if we couldn’t remember from which show they came. There was the feel-good of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the intensity of Stephen Sondheim, the power of Lloyd Webber, and the sheer artistry of Boublil and Schoenberg, to name a few.
Teasing us that “Something’s Coming, Something Good”, the 4 vocalists entered the stage one by one – classically-trained soprano Lara Maiguemost, actor-singer Poppert Bernada, award-winning musical theatre actress Carla Guevara-Laforteza, and seasoned West End performer, Sean Ghazi. The SSO was led by conductor Gerard Salonga, Resident Conductor of the Malaysian Philharmonic Conductor and Music Director of the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth. Several of the arrangements heard tonight were the work of Salonga and it’s about time that we stopped thinking of how he’s related to Lea and how he is a great conductor in his own right. His enthusiasm was infectious, effortlessly winning over the hearts of the audience (and any initially bored members of the orchestra).
The 4 vocalists were stellar in their delivery even though Poppert’s overall performance was marred by muffled enunciation for the most part. The ladies exuded confidence and held their own – most notably in the powerhouse women’s ballads “Memory” and “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, both by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Also worth a mention and a double round of applause was Lara delighting the crowd with a sassy rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Jule Styne’s Funny Girl and Carla’s oxygen-defying “Defying Gravity” from Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. But it was Sean Ghazi who won the audience over with smooth vocals exuding irresistible charisma. With the most experience of them all – having performed all over Europe and Asia, and acted in the movie Anna and the King – he sang each song with every character, every emotion, and every relationship internalised and conveyed. He charmed with some fancy footwork in Nacio Herb Brown’s “Singin’ In The Rain” and tugged at the heartstrings with a sensitive rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Boublil and Schoenberg’s Les Miserables.
The 4 of them shared an easy camaraderie and when they paired up for the duets, the Lara-Sean team stood out with dazzling chemistry in voice and stage presence, for example in “All I Ask Of You” from Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The Carla-Poppert duo also gave as good as they got with a natural comedic flair in Irving Berlin’s very clever “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun.
One common complaint about Broadway-in-concert is that no matter how brilliant the singers and musicians are, the end result tends to pale in comparison with the full stage production of Musical Theatre because one doesn’t get to experience the whole story, the set, the choreography and the emotions. While that may be true for the 1st 3aspects, this concert came very close to succeeding on the 4th count – so masterful were the arrangements and compelling the vocalists. Songs like “This Is The Hour” and “One Day More” (from Boublil and Schoenberg’s Miss Saigon and Les Miserables respectively) sung by all the 4 singers left a tingle down one’s spine at the sheer intensity of emotion echoed by the literal crescendo of the music.
There were a few pieces like Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar Medley that placed the spotlight squarely on the musicians of the SSO, who demonstrated that they could just as convincingly play Sondheim and Irving Berlin as they do Mozart and Sibelius. The stars of the evening though – as expected for a programme such as this – were the brass and percussion of the SSO who did sound as though they were having a lot of fun.
But when it comes to fun, nothing could have prepared us for the final encore of the night! Upon hearing the very familiar opening bar of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, the crowd cheered and without needing more than a simple gesture from the singers on stage, spontaneously stood up. This was a full house at the Esplanade Concert Hall – clapping, jiving and singing along at the top of their voices. The fact that this was the 1st SSO concert at which it was optional to be masked made the whole scene even more amazing. The audience was literally partying like it was 2019! The high spirits and irrepressible joy were a sight to behold and surely, a sign that we – and the arts – are finally able to be “having the time of [your] life”!