Friday, May 9, 2014

Review of The Long Beach Symphony Pops “Broadway’s Greatest Hits” with Todd Ellison, Susan Egan and Special Guest Jane Lynch


On May 3, 2014, the Long Beach Symphony finished up their Pops season with “Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” which made for a really fun evening! This event featured famed Broadway musical director Todd Ellison as the conductor, and Broadway veteran Susan Egan on vocals.

This event was held at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which is a neat facility that includes the Convention Center, the Terrace Theater and the Long Beach Arena. Surprisingly the show was held in the sports arena, not the theater, but this allowed for a cool schedule and layout. The raised stage was set up along the long edge of the floor, and tables were set up on the remainder of the floor so that the customers could bring in their own picnic dinners or eat catered food that they had ordered ahead of time. There was also regular seating available in the loge, which ended up being pretty far from the stage.

The doors opened at 6:30PM so the picnickers would could get started with their meals, and the show kicked off right on time at 8:00PM. The full Long Beach Symphony was used for the “Broadway’s Greatest Hits” show, with the addition of a drum kit and a guitar. It was nice to hear a full orchestra performing the songs, as most Broadway shows use a smaller orchestra.

Todd Ellison came all the way from Connecticut to conduct the orchestra, and his musical direction credentials are top-shelf. He is currently working on the Broadway revival of “Annie,” and he also directed the Tony Award-winners “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “42nd Street” plus oodles of other musicals. Todd also conducted over 20 albums (some of them Grammy winners) and he was Marvin Hamlisch’s musical director. Ellison took over the piano at one point during the show to pay tribute to Hamslisch, and it was a really neat moment.

Susan Egan was the featured vocalist for the evening, and she is an amazing talent with a solid Broadway career too. She was the original Belle form “Beauty and the Beast,” and also took the lead in “Thoroughly Modern Mille” and “Cabaret.” Her current solo artist career is probably a bit more lucrative than Broadway. By the way, Susan is a local who grew up in Seal Beach and was a member of the first graduating class of the Orange County School of the Arts.

This show included numbers from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Chicago,” “Camelot,” Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “My Fair Lady,” “Annie,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked.” Surely there were some folks that were disappointed because their favorite musical did not make the cut, but you cannot make everybody happy. The orchestra did a few songs without Susan, but none of them were terribly long (songs in musicals rarely are).

A highlight of the evening was guest artist Jane Lynch from Glee, who did a few songs from “Annie:” “Easy Street” as a duet with Egan, and “Little Girls” on her own. Lynch is fresh off the role Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of the show, and she is a perfect for the part.

The Long Beach Arena is huge (13,500 seats), and it is hard to fill that big of a hall with a symphony orchestra. From the loge the sound was pretty quiet, and it was hard to pick up all of the nuances, but the vocals were still crystal clear.

Overall, the show was well done, the musical arrangements were good, and there was a nice selection of shows represented. Egan, Ellison and Lynch are all great entertainers and set up a good rapport with the audience. I would not hesitate to see one of the Long Beach Symphony pops concerts when the new season starts. If you are in town, try to check one out too!


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