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Best of Broadway at the Ford

If someone had the idea of doing an "American Idol" centered on competing singers belting Broadway tunes, he couldn't find a better blueprint than Reprise's "Best of Broadway" concert at the Ford. Ten performers sang with such fervor that it felt as though they were fighting to top each other and win a prize, and the adrenalized result was powerhouse entertainment.

With:
Performers: Jason Robert Brown, Kevin Earley, Sam Harris, Kim Huber, Norman Large, Vicki Lewis, Sean McDermott, Kimberly Mikesell, Valarie Pettiford, Tami Tappan Damiano, Salvatore Vassallo, Jennifer Leigh Warren.

If someone had the idea of doing an “American Idol” centered on competing singers belting Broadway tunes, he couldn’t find a better blueprint than Reprise’s “Best of Broadway” concert at the Ford. Ten performers sang with such fervor that it felt as though they were fighting to top each other and win a prize, and the adrenalized result was powerhouse entertainment.

The diverse program began with a buoyant all-star “Lullaby of Broadway” and gained impetus through Norman Large’s rousing, hyper-emotional rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.”

The evening went into orbit when golden-voiced Tami Tappan Damiano tackled “Raise the Roof” from “The Wild Party,” joined on stage by spectacular dancers Sal Vassallo and Kimberly Mikesell. Their lifts and spins were flawlessly executed.

Kevin Earley was peerless performing “Funny” and “You’re Nothing Without Me” from “City of Angels,” a vehicle slated for Reprise’s upcoming season.

Earley also had the production’s biggest challenge: singing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You,” while Vassallo and Mikesell executed a steamy dance that at one point had them rolling over each other, adding unintended comedy to the lyric, “wanting to tell you, but afraid and shy.” Following them onstage, Jason Robert Brown wondered dryly if anyone was paying attention to Earley, “singing his tits off,” considering the R-rated terping competition. The answer, given Earley’s brilliant performance, was a resounding yes.

Brown also comedically remarked, “I don’t sing as high as everybody else,” then overshadowed his modest self-assessment with a vigorous vocal on “Moving Too Fast,” from his own tuner “The Last Five Years.” Brown rivaled the evening’s fine pianist/musical director, Gerald Sternbach, with his virtuoso keyboard contributions.

Stephen Schwartz’s record-breaking “Wicked” ($100 million and building) was sparklingly covered with Damiano’s playful “Popular,” while Kim Huber did full justice to “The Wizard and I” and “Defying Gravity.” Sternbach’s tempos here were wildly fast, and both women had their work cut out for them, but they successfully stayed on top of the material.

Damiano was responsible for the concert’s most moving rendition, “Maybe This Time,” from “Cabaret.” More than many of the other technically admirable voices appearing, she has the ability to delve deeply into a lyric, to cool it when necessary and capture subtleties.

Vicki Lewis delivered stunningly on “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “You Can Always Count on Me,” and Jennifer Leigh Warren soared up the scale on the most popular tune from “Purlie,” “I Got Love.” Valarie Pettiford sustained the show’s drive, making a bitingly enunciated meal of “Bill.”

Technique plus emotion were rousingly evident in Sean McDermott’s “Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which he held a spine-chilling high G, then nailed a higher C-sharp in a breathtakingly committed rendition. It was a tough act to follow, but Sam Harris’ treatment of “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”/”Move on” was a knockout individual closer.

The singers received first-rate backing from Sternbach’s piano, pulsating percussion and electric cello lines that kept beautiful harmonies front and center.

Best of Broadway at the Ford

John Anson Ford Amphitheater;1,245 seats; $25 top

Production: Presented by Reprise! Broadway's Best. Directed by Lee Martino. Music direction, Gerald Sternbach. Reviewed July 30, 2005.

Cast: Performers: Jason Robert Brown, Kevin Earley, Sam Harris, Kim Huber, Norman Large, Vicki Lewis, Sean McDermott, Kimberly Mikesell, Valarie Pettiford, Tami Tappan Damiano, Salvatore Vassallo, Jennifer Leigh Warren.

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