Dallas — Dallas Summer Musicals billed its Nov. 1 gala, a night devoted to showcasing DSM’s commitment to arts education and community outreach, as “An Evening with the Best of Broadway,” and they weren’t kidding. The star-studded event was full to the brim with talent, from the previously announced performers to a few surprise additions to the lineup.
The emcee for the evening was Broadway legend Chita Rivera, 10-time Tony Award nominee and probably best known for originating the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1957. Rivera kept the evening moving smoothly, telling a few anecdotes about how she got into dance as a young girl, and ad libbing a few jokes that kept the audience in stitches.
The first performer of the evening was Amber Riley, probably best known for her role as the powerhouse singer Mercedes Jones on the Ryan Murphy show Glee, but who has since gone on to success on the West End in Dreamgirls. Riley, accompanied on piano by Dan Lipton, performed several numbers from Dreamgirls, but her rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” written by Carole King and made famous by Aretha Franklin, was probably her strongest number of the night.
Next up was Kelli O’Hara, resplendent in a strapless red jumpsuit, who was absolutely the star of the evening. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, first for her performance in 2005’s The Light in the Piazza, then followed by a slew of nominations for redefining classic Broadway roles in productions like 2006’s The Pajama Game, 2008’s South Pacific, and 2015’s The King and I, O’Hara is also no stranger to the screen, having starred in several TV series and appeared in films as well. O’Hara opened with a number from Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s The King and I, “I Have Dreamed,” to which she and regular accompanist Dan Lipton gave a certain bossa nova-y flair — and followed it with a lovely rendition of South Pacific’s “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy.” But not confining herself to Broadway classics, O’Hara also performed a few more contemporary pieces, including a song written by her husband Greg Naughton (of the band The Sweet Remains) titled “The Sun Went Out,” as well as a beautiful mash-up of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” with The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” which O’Hara dedicated to her son. And although it wasn’t her closer (that was the classic “Make Someone Happy”), O’Hara had the audience roaring with her original number, “We Can’t Let You In the Opera If You’re A Country Star,” hilariously bemoaning her ambitions to make it in country music and at the Met.
There was a pause in the proceedings for the presentation of the Charles S. Sharp and Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler “Angel Award,” an award honoring the work of volunteers and philanthropists named for two of DSM’s former presidents, which was presented to Sally Hoglund, a longtime member of DSM’s advisory board.
Following O’Hara was an unannounced guest performer, Canadian actress and singer Caissie Levy, taking a night off from starring as Elsa in Broadway’s Frozen (a role she originated). She wisely opted to open with the signature number from that piece, “Let It Go”, which offered a sneak peak of the production value we can expect to see in DSM’s production of the musical in their upcoming season. Levy then performed a medley of songs from the classic Hair, having won acclaim for her role as Sheila in that show’s 2009-10 revival, and closed with Jesus Christ Superstar’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” another musical to look forward to in DSM’s next season.
And finally, the last surprise guest of the evening was Adam Pascal, who originated the role of Roger in Jonathan Larson’s Rent in 1996 as well as the role of Radames in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. Pascal wryly acknowledged that he’s best known for one song, Rent’s “One Song Glory,” and so sang it with gusto, his powerful tenor as strong as ever.
The evening concluded with several group performances incorporating students from the Dallas Independent School District, including some award winners from DSM’s 2019 High School Musical Theater Awards. All the previous performers took the stage and sang with the students, with Pascal performing Rent’s “Living In America” with the students, who then performed a mash-up of “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hanson and Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” which ended the night with a standing ovation from the audience.
The evening was a thrilling mix of seasoned performers and new-and-upcoming talent, only emphasizing the importance of DSM’s education and outreach programs. Additionally, DSM should be applauded for their “Buy One, Give One” twist to ticketing for the gala, which provided one complimentary ticket to students and educators across North Texas for every ticket sold, yet another indication of the company’s dedication to making theater accessible to the community.
DSM has since reported that it raised over $500,000 at this gala. Bravo!