Dallas — Broadway music lovers were treated to a melodiously arranged cornucopia of tunes, from Cole Porter’s "So in Love" to Stephen Schwartz’s "Defying Gravity," in Ashley Brown's Come to the Cabaret, featuring the New York star and the superb Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of upbeat guest conductor Stuart Chafetz.
Engaging with the audience, and clearly enjoying the skills of the orchestra in front of him, Chafetz opened with a swirling arrangement of Broadway music, weaving motifs from "The Luckiest People in the World," "Mame," "Hello, Dolly!" and other memory-evoking grand-dame show tunes.
Brown swept onto the stage to Chafetz's introduction wearing a flatteringly draped purple gown with a cape. She sang a terrific arrangement of "Just in Time" and "With a Song in My Heart," melded into a single throbbing desire for the beloved, and filling the Meyerson's loving acoustical environs with her wide-ranging soprano voice.
In the same way, she blended "Smile" and "Make Someone Happy" into a fresh discovery of the power of joy and love in our lives.
Chavetz elicited a super-sexy sound from the symphony orchestra in the trombone-sliding, hot trumpet-wailing arrangement of songs from Chicago. Could we have been in a symphony hall? What a jammin' bunch of musicians. Brown joined in the heat with her rendition of "Le Jazz Hot," now outfitted in sequins and fringe, and accompanied by three men in top hats and tales, singing along and accompanying her every flirty move.
Vocalists Jim Hogan, Joseph Perkins Jr. and Danny Kingston joined Brown on several numbers, providing chorus voices and dramatic partners for duets.
Brown originated the title role in Mary Poppins on Broadway, and also starred in the national tour. Her dramatic skills were evident in her gently imploring delivery of "Feed the Birds" from that show. She'll be back in Dallas at the Fair Park Music Hall next month, playing the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music.
Chafetz then led the orchestra in a relentlessly cheerful arrangement of Broadway hits that concludes with the strains of "All I Need Is the Girl," at which point Brown stepped back onstage, this time in a pink prom dress with her hair swept up.
In "The Disney Medley," she paid tribute to her favorite songs from her favorite Disney movies, most of which are pretty vapid stuff compared to the earlier songs, but ending with a heartfelt delivery of Randy Newman's "You Got a Friend in Me" along with the strong-voiced accompanying vocalists.
The second act included a nicely staged "Entr’acte" from Ring Them Bells, culminating in a wedding duet with one of the vocalists. The high point of the evening was Brown's wonderfully soaring "So in Love" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, a practically perfect match of song and singer.
In "Love Duets," Brown hit the crescendo moments in "Falling in Love is Wonderful," "People Will Say We're in Love," "Tonight," "Someone to Watch over Me" and several other songs, moving from one man to another. Everybody sang the medley with gusto and feeling, but the unfortunate effect was to dampen the ardor of any single song.
Brown closed the evening with "Defying Gravity," the first-act finale song from Wicked, again accompanied by the male vocalists, and looking smashing in her ultra-glamorous black gown, as her Dallas audience gave her a standing O. Almost like Broadway.