No doubt many of you are familiar with Strathmore – it is a preeminent performance venue right here in our backyard. Not only does it boast the impressive Music Center, which draws some of the most prestigious names in music, but also the smaller, more intimate mansion venue. What you may not know about Strathmore, however, is the extensive outreach work that they do. They provide programming for children, adults, the community at large, as well as helping to develop the next generation of artists. This past Saturday, May 4th, Strathmore hosted their annual Spring Gala fundraiser in support of these programs, with some very special guests in attendance.
Two huge Broadway stars took time from their busy schedules to come and perform in this black-tie benefit concert at Strathmore, citing their passion for youth arts education; Matthew Morrison and Shoshana Bean. Bean notably replaced Idina Menzel as Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, reprising the role in the first national tour. She also was a member of the original Broadway cast of “Hairspray,” and has released a number of studio albums and singles. Having her at the show was even more of a treat since she has only just taken over the leading role of Jenna in Broadway’s “Waitress.”
The benefit not only entertained but helped to show the power of arts education in action with these dynamic and passionate young people displaying their talent.
Matthew Morrison has also had Broadway success; he actually shared the stage with Bean in the original cast of “Hairspray,” originating the role of teen heartthrob Link Larkin. He also gained acclaim in Broadway productions of “A Light in the Piazza,” “South Pacific,” and as the lead character of J.M. Barrie in the musical adaptation of “Finding Neverland.” However, he is probably best known for his role of inspirational high school teacher Mr. Shu on the Fox juggernaut “Glee.” He has made numerous appearances on other TV shows and films and has recorded 3 albums.
Bean kicked off the evening’s performance, joined by a live jazz ensemble of piano, bass, drums, and brass/woodwind section. She started with the opening track from her most recent album, “Spectrum” called “I Wanna Be Around.” It was a jazzy and vibrant way to kick off what was to be a joyful and engaging performance from the gifted vocalist. Between songs, Bean shared stories about her influences and inspirations; performers like Aretha Franklin, Barbara Streisand, and Frank Sinatra. In honor of those influences, she also performed numbers from both Sinatra (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”) and Franklin (“I Never Loved A Man.”) Her impressive vocal range was on full display, hitting dizzying heights with ease. Her music director, David Cook, also had an impressively dexterous piano solo in the Sinatra tune. She spoke passionately about the importance of arts education, not only as an outlet but also as a means for young people to explore who they are and find their place in the world. This reviewer’s favorite part of her set was a gorgeous version of the “Camelot” tune, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
Morrison started his portion of the evening on a funny note, doing a bit where he slyly introduced himself. He also performed a Sinatra tune, with a high energy rendition of “The Lady is a Tramp.” Morrison was not just content to sing; he also threw in some sharp dance moves, complete with a jaunty fedora as an accessory. Like Bean, Morrison shared some personal stories between songs, and talked about the impact having his son had on him as a lead-in to his performance of “As Long As He Needs Me” from the musical “Oliver.” He also did a dynamic rendition of “On The Street Where You Live,” from “My Fair Lady, which was fast-paced and heavily in the big band style.
He was joined onstage by a familiar face to “Glee” fans, Brad Ellis, known to fans of the show as the piano player from the musical series. Morrison also performed several medleys of songs, first from “West Side Story,” a mash-up of Disney classics “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” and “Bare Necessities,” as well as pulling Shoshana Bean back onstage to perform a funky version of Aladdin’s “A Whole New World.” Morrison closed the show with another medley, taking the audience through the story of “Hairspray” song by song.
However, the highlight of Morrison’s set was his medley of songs from “Finding Neverland.” He was joined onstage by representatives of both Young Artists of America and Strathmore Children’s Choir. These rich and emotional songs were strengthened further by Morrison’s passionate vocals and the incredible performance of these amazingly talented young people.
Just when the audience thought the show had reached its conclusion, Bean, Morrison, and the full companies of both Young Artists of America and Strathmore Children’s Choir blew everyone away with a powerful rendition of the popular anthem from the recent musical film “The Greatest Showman,” “This is Me.” It was the perfect note, both literally and figuratively, to end this show on, and had the audience on their feet. The benefit not only entertained but helped to show the power of arts education in action with these dynamic and passionate young people displaying their talent.
After the show, all those in attendance were welcomed to a reception, complete with drinks, dessert, and dancing! A jazz quintet performed a mixture of contemporary and classic tunes which inspired the guests to both dance and sing along. It was truly an evening to remember.
If you are disappointed not to have been able to help with such a worthy cause, not to worry. If you’d like to help Strathmore reach their gala goal, there’s still time! Text BLOOM (space) Donation Amount (space) Your Name to 41444. If you are able, you can help support a very worthy cause that benefits so many people in our community. For more information on Strathmore, click here.