February 2, 1999
by Pat and Ernie Pinson
How many times have you left the theater singing to yourself those catchy melodies of a musical? "Ole Man River," The Sound of Music, "Music of the Night" -- those tunes are as indigenous to the American culture as apple pie -- and just as tasteful. What the light opera and singspiel was to the 18th and 19th centuries, the musical is to the 20th, and Broadway is its Vienna. Where we may bow to Italy, Austria, Germany in opera, and to Britain, France, and Germany in serious drama, our forte in the U.S. is what has come to be called "musicals."
The Mobile Opera Association's presentation of "Bravo Broadway!" on Thursday night Jan 28 was a tour de force of highlights from this American gift to the musical world. It was also the first time Mobile Opera has added a third event to their season, and based on the attendance and the positive response of the audience, it was a smashing success. With two male singers (Michael Maguire, Doug LaBreque) dressed in black tuxedos and one female (Jan Horvath) now in blue and rhinestones, now in fuchsia sequins, now in stunning black herself, these three Broadway stars sang, gestured, and danced to the beat of the Mobile Opera Orchestra under conductor Jerome Shannon in two January 28 and 30 performances at the Mobile Civic Theater.
The three stars provided a running commentary, often setting the mood or background of the song before performing it. Singing alone or together, their voices had all the brightness and color needed to bring a house to its feet. And although Jan Horvath's voice was a little more lyrical and lighter than the two men and displayed best when she sang alone, she seemed to relish the competition with two male voices. The first half programmed the rousing lighter ensembles and celebration of life and love in "Begin the Beguine" (Cole Porter), "I Got Rhythm" (George Gershwin), and "One Singular Sensation" (M. Hamlisch in Chorus Line). Noticeably absent were the workhorses of Rogers and Hammerstein et al so frequently heard elsewhere. After the intermission, the focus changed to the inner dilemmas of the lead characters of these dramas. It was here that the evening's heights were reached -- sheer lyrical beauty in Michael Maguire's "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, strength and heartbreak in Jan Horvath's "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Evita, and demonic persuasion in Doug LaBreque's "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. Each song captured the essence of the character and dramatically portrayed the wide vocal and dynamic range of the voices. The sensuousness of the Phantom's (LaBreque's) voice as he sang of "sweet intoxication, savor each sensation" with the innocent interweaving into " All I Ask of You" (Maguire and Horvath) brought the house to its feet with bravos!
After that, the coming back to earth with "Life is a Cabaret" seemed a fitting conclusion for an audience who is in the midst of Mardi Gras season. As Michael said, "This audience doesn't seem to be going home," so they threw out one last jewel as from a Mardi Gras float in the form of "Love Changes Everything" and the crowd loved them still.