Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Masters of the Musical Theater
with Hugh Panaro, Anne Runolfsson and Scarlett Strallen

Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Dogfight, Finding Neverland and Cabaret

Courtesy of Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Last weekend the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, along with three accomplished Broadway performers, presented a concert entitled Masters of the Musical Theater. It was a wonderful evening of classic, well-known songs written by some of the most distinguished Broadway composers, from Leonard Bernstein to Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber under the expert baton of Matthew Kasper, the Symphony's resident conductor.

Hugh Panaro, Anne Runolfsson, and Scarlett Strallen have more than a dozen combined Broadway credits on their resumes, and their vocal abilities soared throughout the concert, which began on an upbeat and brassy note with the overture from Funny Girl expertly performed by the Phoenix Symphony. The three vocalists performed a fun pairing of "Another Openin', Another Show" (Kiss Me, Kate) and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (Annie Get Your Gun) which was followed by Runolfsson delivering a gorgeous, driving version of "Don't Rain on My Parade."

Panaro's performance of "Luck Be a Lady" from Guys and Dolls was infused with a beautiful intensity while "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady received a beautiful rendition from Strallen that dripped with romance. The three vocalists also sang a fun and upbeat "I Got Rhythm" from George and Ira Gershwin's Girl Crazy.

While West Side Story is a musical that doesn't have an overture, Maurice Peress' adaption of several songs from the show into an overture for symphonic orchestra is exceptional. Kasper mentioned that Peress was a former teacher of his and that this orchestration of Leonard Bernstein's music allows each piece of the orchestra, from strings to woodwinds, brass, percussion and even a beautiful solo part for the harp during "Somewhere," to shine.

Three beloved musical theatre solo songs followed, including Strallen's stirring, heartfelt take on Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, which was sung with only a piano accompaniment. Runolfsson's delivery of "Cabaret" was appropriately biting. This was followed by Panaro's humorous version of "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man that found the words "Twitter" and "Kardashian" included in the list of troubling words, such as "swell," that Meredith Willson included in his lyrics that could spell trouble if your children start saying them.

The first act of Company ends with "Getting Married Today," and the first half of the concert found the three vocalists delivering a fun, fast-paced take on this comical gem that featured Runolfsson maneuvering her way expertly through Sondheim's tongue twisting lyrics.

A sweeping suite of songs from Jesus Christ Superstar opened the second half of the concert, which was devoted entirely to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, including what are arguably the three most well-known songs from his musicals. These included a simply stunning take by Strallen of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita. She mentioned that she feels a personal connection to Lloyd Webber's shows as her parents have performed in several of them, including the original London production of Cats, and that she made her West End debut in the youth chorus of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The lovely ballad from that show, "Any Dream Will Do," received a meaningful delivery from Panaro with the two women singing the backing chorus parts.

The Symphony performed the prologue from Cats, which includes the fun, upbeat and driving "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats," which was followed by that show's big solo, "Memory," which Runolfsson sang exceptionally.

Panaro is one of the few actors to have performed both male leads in The Phantom of the Opera, having played the Phantom more than 2,000 times. He and Strallen sang a stirring version of the title song, with Strallen hitting some incredibly impressive high notes, before Panaro took the stage to deliver a soaring version of "The Music of the Night" that brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation.

The vocalists ended the concert with a beautiful trio of love songs from three of Lloyd Webber's show, which was made famous in the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber concert tour: "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love; "Unexpected Song" from Song and Dance; and "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar.

The mix of three Broadway stars with an orchestra and conductor they've never performed with before could possibly result in an uneven concert with ragged edges. But this concert was incredibly tight, with perfect tempos under Kasper's direction, a beautiful selection of classic show tunes, expert playing by each member of the Phoenix Symphony, and exceptional vocals—all sounding as if the orchestra were traveling with the three stars. It was another exceptional example of how excellent the Phoenix Symphony is, something all three vocalists mentioned more than once throughout the evening.

Masters of the Musical Theater with Hugh Panaro, Anne Runolfsson and Scarlett Strallen with the Phoenix Symphony played three performances from January 10 to January 12, 2020, at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at