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Broadway duo defies pops concert ‘gravity’

Posted: February 16, 2014 at 1:08 a.m.

So could we please have a Broadway-themed pops concert without “The Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera?

Lovely, powerful, moving tune, sure; Andrew Lloyd Webber at his best, and I loved it the first 43 times I heard it. But by hearing No. 200 …

It helps that it got an uplifting performance Saturday night by Broadway singer/actors Mandy Gonzalez and Destan Owens, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Associate Conductor Geoffrey Robson at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall. (A last-minute “lift” from financier Warren Stephens made their appearance possible after weather forced the cancellation of three flights from New York.)

Lloyd Webber was well represented on the program and in the performances in the “Best of Broadway” pops concert. Gonzalez and Owens teamed up well on Phantom’s title tune and Gonzalez sang the fur off of “Memory” from Cats.

Gonzalez, just off a run playing Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway, also knocked the audience flat with that show’s anthem “Defying Gravity” and aced solos in “All That Jazz” from Chicago and the bluesy “I’m Here” from The Color Purple.

Owens used his fine tenor to considerable effect in “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, digging a little deeper in his range for “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles.

And they had several lovely duet numbers, including “How Could I Ever Forget” from Next to Normal, “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors, “Seasons of Love” from Rent (a show Owens spent three years with on Broadway) and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Spamalot, with some dialogue from the show thrown in to cover a couple of verses with dicey lyrics.

After some silly stage business, Dr. Richard Wheeler, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences professor and symphony board chairman, took up the Opus XXIX Maestro’s Baton to nicely guest-conduct a medley from A Chorus Line.

Singers and players will reunite for a repeat at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street and Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761 or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.

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