ORLANDO — For years, touring Broadway productions always made a stop in Orlando at the Bob Carr Theater, until those shows shifted to the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
On Saturday, though, Broadway made a return to the Bob Carr Theater, courtesy of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, which revived classic songs from hit stage musicals in a program titled “Great American Songbook.”
The concert, conducted by Albert George Schram, rediscovered songs by seven of Broadway’s best known songwriters, including Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern.
The OPO was assisted in the afternoon and evenings shows by the vocal talents of Christine Noll, who made her Broadway debut in “Jekyll & Hyde The Musical,” and most recently received a Drama Desk nomination for her work in “Chaplin”; and Doug Labrecque, who has performed in such productions as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Showboat” and “Les Miserables,” among others.
With the assist of the OPO musicians, the singers took the audience on a tour of Broadway’s immortalized songbook, including such enduring titles as “Another Openin’ Another Show,” “Embraceable You,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
About an hour before the first show, Schram, Noll and Labrecque came together on stage to greet the audience and talk about the concert they were about to perform. Schram said he was thrilled to see so many people show up for the start of the OPO’s 2016/2017 season, the 24th for these musicians.
“I’m always delighted when so many of you come to this talk, because it means you get a leg up,” Schram said. “You have a chance to find out things you might not otherwise know.”
Schram said he was also looking forward to this performance because of the OPO’s ability to work with Noll and Labrecque, two talented singers, he said, whose vocal gifts would bring the superb tunes to life.
“You can’t have a Broadway show without singers,” Schram said. “They sound so fantastic, all I have to do is man the ship.”
He added that the concert was a way of paying tribute to what Broadway has contributed to America’s songbook.
“We have an afternoon that is totally dedicated to Broadway,” he said, adding of the songwriters themselves, “All these folks, they started this great tradition.”
Noll noted that in addition to being a part of Broadway’s rich history, many of the songs they were about to perform are also a part of the history of early moviemaking, since so many of the songs ended up in films, including cinematic versions of those Broadway shows.
“We talk about the golden age of Broadway,” she said, “but it was also the golden age of Hollywood.”
The duo ended each show with an encore, performing the song “Over The Rainbow,” immortalized by Judy Garland in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Labrecque said this number is the perfect example of why these songs endure decades later, because of their ability to tell a story that audiences can relate to. He noted that Dorothy, the character in “Wizard of Oz” played by Garland, sang the song as she longed for a better place than rural Kansas.
“When you get to a song like ‘Over The Rainbow,’ you think about how it tells a story,” he said. “This young girl is discovering that when things get down, you look to another world.”
The entire concert, he said, is a salute to this uniquely American style of songwriting.
“We’re always going to have this genre to call our own, of American music,” he said.
RK Kelley, the president of the OPO’s board of directors, thanked the audience for their ongoing support, in particular those who have subscribed to the orchestra’s full season.
“Today, we’re kicking off our pop series,” she said. “Thank you to all our season subscribers.”
Next up for the OPO is “Glorious Schubert,” the first concert of the Focus Series, being held on Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at The Plaza Live, 425 N. Bumby Ave.; and “Home for the Holidays,” held on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2 and 8 p.m. at the Bob Carr Theater.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..