Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of The Sound of Music
With gifted music director Darnell White on piano, the evening got off in an upbeat way with White delivering a driving version of "On Broadway," which was featured in the hit musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe. New York casting director and producer Stephen DeAngelis, who created the concert in collaboration with Scottsdale Arts, introduced each of the performers and engaged them in brief conversation before each performed a song from a show they appeared in.
With clear, powerful vocals, Jelani Remy and Syndee Winters, who appeared in the national tour of The Lion King together as Simba and Nala and also both later played those roles on Broadway, performed that show's romantic duo, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Lana Gordon sang a superb version of "All that Jazz," from Chicago, which included some of the Bob Fosse/Ann Reinking choreography that her character, Velma, danced in the show's opening number. Gordon recently got a chance to sing that song with her Broadway castmates on the NBC TV special last December, "One Night Only: The Best of Broadway," and she mentioned to DeAngelis how she and pop-singer and actress Brandy made Broadway history as the first two African American women to co-star in a Broadway show, when they appeared together in Chicago. Doug Eskew appeared in the original cast of the Tony nominated Broadway revue Five Guys Named Moe, and his delivery of one of his solo songs from that show, "Caldonia," was a crowd pleaser.
Alexandra Ncube grew up in town and went to ASU before being cast as the female lead Nabulungi in the national tour of The Book of Mormon. She also played that role in the London production. Her warm, sweet voice delivered a beautiful and fun version of her solo song from that Tony winning musical, "Sal Tlay Ka Siti." Winters mentioned she'd been involved in a workshop for the recent planned Broadway revival of Aida and, after changing into a gorgeous dress, sang a soaring version of that show's ode to fashion, "My Strongest Suit." Gordon's strong voice delivered powerhouse performances of "Push da Button," from The Color Purple, and "Don't Rain on My Parade," from Funny Girl, while Eskew charmed the audience with the upbeat, humorous "You're Feet's Too Big" from Ain't Misbehavin'. Eskew also delivered an inspiring "Make Them Hear You" from Ragtime.
Remy was appearing in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations on Broadway when everything shut down in March 2020, and he spoke about how the last year with not being able to perform made him realize how many times he'd missed important family events due to either being on the road on a tour or performing eight shows a week on Broadway. He said that he spent a lot of 2020 reconnecting with his family, and he dedicated his moving performance of "Proud of Your Boy" from Aladdin to his mother. Winters stated that Lena Horne had been a role model to her and she sang a stirring rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" from Show Boat, while also mentioning how Horne had been considered to appear in the 1951 film version of the musical, in the role of the mixed race character Julie, only to have Ava Gardner cast in the role.
Other songs included Remy's fun mash up of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "The Rainbow Connection," from The Muppet Movie, Ncube and Eskew's warm duet of "Be a Lion" from The Wiz, and Gordon's jazzy take on "Summertime," from Porgy and Bess. Two of the evening's major highlights came at the end of the concert, with Winters' superb rendition of "Satisfied" from Hamilton, a song she sang in the Broadway cast, and Remy's gorgeous delivery of "Just My Imagination," a song he sang in the of Ain't Too Proud on Broadway. An encore of "Stand By Me" ended the evening on a high.
While every performance in the concert was excellent, there were some shortcomings I noted, which had nothing at all to do with the performers or the songs they sang. What was missing was a clearer sense of cohesiveness, or at least an introduction to set the evening up, to provide a better understanding of how the title of the show related to the concert. Billing something to say that it "celebrates diversity" but not really getting into any specifics around the issues of diversity as far as it relates to Broadway Black artists and casting or other concerns seems like a lost opportunity, especially in the current times we are living in when many people are focused on issues that minorities, and especially African Americans, face. It could have been a great teaching opportunity for those in the audience, even if it was simply in an introduction at the beginning of the evening.
Also, while DeAngelis introduced each artist before they sang their first song, and also offered a small amount of backstory on them, which made it seem like he'd be the emcee for the show, he then disappeared, leaving any future introductory comments to the artists themselves, which seemed odd and not well thought out. Additionally, the information for the concert said that it would feature songs from roles that Black artists have not traditionally played, but all but three songs were numbers associated with a Black musical character or performer, and when those three songs were sung nothing was mentioned about them having been performed traditionally by non-Black singers. That seemed like another missed opportunity.
The concert could have just as easily been called Celebrating Amazing African American Broadway Performers and it would have made sense. Still, I give credit to Scottsdale Arts for offering an evening like this that truly celebrates phenomenal Broadway talent, specifically Broadway Black artists, and for focusing an evening on diversity. They've already announced a followup concert for next season called Broadway Perspectives: Women of Broadway.
Broadway Perspectives: A Concert Celebrating Diversity performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on April 3, 2021. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.