Like a balm for the frozen soul, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra whisked music lovers off to the Great White Way Friday night for its latest Pops show, The Dream Concert.
The loftily titled program led by WSO resident conductor Richard Lee featured Canadian singing stars Michael Burgess (tenor) and Rebecca Caine (soprano) performing a hit parade of famous as well as lesser-known show tunes.
As a stroke of pure luck or astute programming savvy or both, ¬the concert notably showcased songs penned by American composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, currently being celebrated this month during the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Master Playwright Festival.
Critically acclaimed for his pure tenor voice as well as dramatic acting ability, the Regina-born Burgess first became known for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in the Canadian production of Les Misérables.
His illustrious career has included television, film, opera and musical theatre appearances as well as being the first person to perform O Canada at a World Series baseball game in 1992.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto-born Caine is equally at home in opera and musical theatre after making her London West End debut at age 19. She subsequently portrayed Cosette in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of Les Misérables, as well as creating the lead role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, later reprising it for the show’s Canadian première.
Often, these types of shows follow a formula. After a lively instrumental overture, the stars will appear and we go from there. In this case, after the orchestra’s brief, and yes, dreamy introduction of Bernstein’s West Side Story Overture, Burgess and Caine immediately took the stage to perform a medley from that august musical. Their powerhouse vocals and soaring ranges were immediately apparent, further evidenced by Caine’s stratospheric solos of Summertime (Porgy and Bess) and crowd-pleasing My Heart Will Go On (Titanic).
Another highlight was the soprano’s sensitive delivery of Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music). Although no one, arguably, will ever be able to outdo its original vocalist Glynis Johns’ world-weary interpretation, Caine took full ownership of the timeless ballad with her gorgeous legato phrasing, effortless breath control and ability to nuance every note drawn from a rich tonal palette making it seem easy.
Now in his 60s, Burgess also showed he’s still going strong with Love Changes Everything (Aspects of Love) as well a stirring medley from Man of la Mancha including The Impossible Dream. His ringing top notes as well as robust lower range never faltered.
Having said all this, the concert itself felt like two. The first half featured the stars, more or less, appearing alone onstage. Audiences love banter (although we did get the requisite Winterpeg jokes) and more of this dialogue would have been welcomed. With such long performing careers, more anecdotes from the musical theatre world also would have added to the mixed-ages crowd’s enjoyment. However, after intermission, Burgess and Caine appeared more at ease, performing selections from their own respective shows including the duet All I Ask of You (The Phantom of the Opera) and a stirring Bring Him Home (Les Misérables) before a final, appropriate duet of Con te Partiro (With you I will leave).
The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.