It wasn’t just that the singer went to school in the Orlando area, or that he has performed at local theaters like the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. More importantly, he was thrilled to be back at the Bob Carr Theater, which he said holds a special place in his heart.
“This building holds a lot of memories for me,” Gaines told the audience, “and was very influential to me growing up. I saw my first musical here, my first opera. I graduated from high school in this building.”
More importantly, Gaines — who performed the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” more than 2,000 times during his run on Broadway — went from audience member at the Bob Carr to performer on stage, including taking on the role of Cornelius Hackl in a production of “Hello, Dolly.”
“I did ‘Hello, Dolly’ with Carol Channing in this building,” he said. “Carol remains a good friend, and I just saw her a few weeks ago in Palm Beach for her 95th birthday.”
On Saturday, Gaines joined singer Ann Hampton Callaway and conductor Rob Fisher for the final show of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s current season.
The program was simply titled, “Let’s Fall in Love,” and dedicated to reintroducing audiences to some classic romantic ballads.
“I love to sing love songs, because that’s what life is all about,” Callaway said, then added, “But love songs are tough on some people. How many people in the audience are alone and bitter?”
The selection of songs included “Let’s Fall In Love,” “All The Way,” “Moon River,” “With a Song in My Heart” and “The Way We Were,” some performed by Gaines, others by Callaway, and several done as a duet, including “Music of the Night” from “Phantom.”
It was, Fisher said at the start of the show, a sheer delight for all three of them.
“We are three people who treasure the great standards,” he said. “This is a bit of a reunion for us. We’ve all known each other for a very long time.”
Saturday’s concert, though, was a special one, Callaway said, because “This is the first time we’ve ever performed together professionally.”
“You’ll see what it’s like for what three creative people can do,” Gaines added.
While Gaines’ performance marked a return for him to the Bob Carr, the same was true for Callaway, who had provided her vocal talents in 2015 to a salute to the songs of Barbra Streisand.
“I was here last year doing the Barbra Streisand Songbook,” she said, adding that it was a great pleasure indeed to be back with OPO.
“This is a very beautiful orchestra,” she said. “They really put their heart and soul into performing.”
Fisher agreed, saying the combination of the OPO musicians’ skills and the vocal talents of Gaines and Callaway made this a uniquely rich concert.
“You’re going to know these songs today — it’s a beautiful selection of songs,” he said. “There really aren’t any more thrilling or versatile voices than those two. They connect their whole beings into whatever they’re singing about.”
As for the orchestra, he said “They are so fine and they are so beautiful. I chose the theme for the program, which is love — and love songs.”
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..