Catasauqua Press

Friday, November 22, 2019
Debbie Gravitte Debbie Gravitte
Hugh Panaro Hugh Panaro
Scarlett Strallen Scarlett Strallen

Broadway legends: Allentown Symphony Pops salutes Sondheim, Webber

Saturday, October 12, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

Two of the greatest living composers of Broadway theater music will be honored by the Allentown Symphony Pops by featuring three musical veterans, including a Tony winner and the actor who portrayed the Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” more than 2,000 times.

The “ASO Pops Series,” with the orchestra conducted by Ronald Demkee, presents “The Best of Broadway: A Tribute to Sondheim & Lloyd Webber,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

The soloists are Tony Award-winner Debbie Gravitte, former Phantom Hugh Panaro and Scarlett Strallen, who is now appearing on Broadway.

“This is an incredible program,” Gravitte says. “We are just starting our third season with it and it has just grown in popularity.”

Gravitte says that the first half of the concert will focus on Stephen Sondheim, known for darker musicals, including “Sweeney Todd,” “Company,” “Gypsy,” West Side Story” and “Into the Woods.”

“These two guys [Sondheim and Webber], who happen to have the same birthday, are two of the modern era’s biggest writers,” Gravitte says. “We could easily do four shows of this material.”

She says all three of the singers get their “moment in the sun.”

Gravitte’s moment is when she sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy.”

She says she can’t wait to sing the classic song backed by the brass and strings of the ASO.

“It will be incredible,” she says. “The Sondheim music is all gorgeous and thought-provoking. And then we throw in a song like “Not Getting Married” from “Company,” which is very funny.”

The concert’s second half is Andrew Lloyd Webber music from his hit shows, including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Songs will include “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” from “Evita,” several numbers from “Phantom of the Opera” highlighting Panaro and “a few surprises,” says Gravitte.

Gravitte will sing the hit song “Memory” from “Cats.”

She says that while the three performers are doing lots of different material, “the wonderful thing about this is we are so comfortable and love working with each other.”

Gravitte says she also loves working with regional orchestras.

“They usually are a reflection of the community where we are singing,” she says. “It really gives you the flavor of the community.”

Gravitte received a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in Jerome Robbins’ “Broadway” in 1989. as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination and New York Showstopper Award. She made her Broadway debut in “They’re Playing Our Song” in 1979 and went on to appear in “Perfectly Frank,” “Blues In The Night,” “Ain’t Broadway Grand” “Zorba,” “Chicago” and “Les Miserables.”

Gravitte has appeared in the Encore’s series productions of “The Boys From Syracuse,” “Tenderloin” and “Carnival” at New York’s City Center, and has performed her nightclub act from New York’s 54 Below to London’s Pizza on the Park.

She has sung with more than 100 orchestras and appeared with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops, Lang Lang and the Chinese Philharmonic in Beijing, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and Marvin Hamlisch and the National Symphony, as well as with the London, Aalborg, and Birmingham Symphony Orchestras, Stockholm Philharmonic, the Gotesborg and Jerusalem Symphonies, Munich Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Orchestra Massimo del Palermo, and Symphonica of Brazil.

On television, Gravitte co-starred on the CBS series, “Trial and Error,” and has starred in several specials for PBS, including “Live from the Kennedy Center,” “The Boston Pops Celebrate Bernstein,” “Rodgers and Hart for Great Performances” and “Ira Gershwin’s 100th Birthday Celebration.”

Gravitte can be heard as one of the voices in Disney’s animated feature film, “The Little Mermaid.”

Panaro is best-known for having played the role of the Phantom in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera” more than 2,000 times, including the 25th anniversary production.

Panaro is one of the few actors to be cast by Harold Prince as both the Phantom and Raoul in the show’s Broadway production and is now starring as Sweeney Todd in the immersive Off-Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd.”

Panaro made his Broadway debut in the original production of “Les Misérables” as Marius, the role he originated in the First National Company. He also created the roles of Buddy in the original “Side Show,” Julian Craster in Jule Styne’s last musical, “The Red Shoes;” and the title role in the American premiere of Cameron Mackintosh’s “Martin Guerre.”

At the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, Panaro played George Seurat in Sam Buntrock’s Tony Award-winning production of “Sunday in the Park with George,” and Robert in Sondheim’s “Company. “

His performance as Jean Valjean in the Walnut Street Theater production of “Les Misérables” garnered him the Barrymore Award, and in 2012, he received the Edwin Forrest Award for his long-term contribution to the theater.

Panaro has performed with numerous symphony orchestras, including Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle and Utah Symphonies, and the London Sinfonietta. He was a guest soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic, conducted by Marvin Hamlisch.

Strallen has starred in productions on Broadway, London’s West End, and is a frequent soloist on the concert stage. She is starring on Broadway as Gwendolyn in “Travesties” and has appeared in the title role of “Mary Poppins.” Her performance of Josephine in “HMS Pinafore” at Regents Park Open Air Theatre brought her an Olivier nomination.

A frequent soloist with orchestras around the world, Strallen made her German debut at the Philharmonic in Berlin with the John Wilson Orchestra in “A Celebration of the MGM Film Musicals.”

Her film and television credits include the title role in the BBC production of “Mary Poppins” celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by a grant from the Century Fund, are available.