Review: Grant Park, Classic Broadway and the Power of a Not-So-Humid Night

“Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast gave guest vocalists Mamie Parris, Madison Claire Parks and Bronson Norris Murphy a chance to get playful during the Grant Park Orchestra’s Classic Broadway concert. Photo by Bob Benenson.

The humidity that has made this one of Chicago’s least pleasant summers lifted for last weekend. It was perfect timing for the Grant Park Music Festival‘s airy Classic Broadway, its traditional immersion into popular culture.

The performance featured Lawrence Loh—the music director for Symphonia in Syracuse, New York—as guest conductor, and three guest vocalists: Madison Claire Parks and Bronson Norris Murphy, whose voices soared to operatic limits, and Mamie Parris, a belter who channeled Barbra Streisand, Betty Buckley and Idina Menzel during the program.

Guest conductor Lawrence Loh led the Grant Park Orchestra. Photo by Bob Benenson.

The first half of the show was focused on the Golden Era of musical theater. It opened with the familiar instrumental “Carousel Waltz” from Carousel (1945) by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The singers made their appearance during a medley of tunes written and performed in the early 20th century by George M. Cohan. Rodgers and Hammerstein returned in “Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific (1949), sung by Parks. Parris followed with a rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl (1964), Streisand’s breakthrough Broadway role as comedian Fanny Brice. Two songs from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (1957) followed: “Seventy-Six Trombones,” played as an instrumental (with lots of brass, of course), and the love song “Till There Was You,” sung by Parks.

Alan Menken’s “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—originally an animated film (1991) later adapted to the stage—allowed the trio to get playful (conductor Loh even sang a few bars). Murphy soloed on “Why God, Why?” from Miss Saigon, one of the few songs on the program that isn’t deeply embedded in popular music culture.

Then Classic Broadway became the Andrew Lloyd Webber Show. Parris has performed the role of Grizabella in Cats (introduced on Broadway in 1982 by Buckley), so “Memory” is something of a signature song for her. Murphy, who according to the program notes has performed in 10 different roles in Phantom of the Opera (opened 1988), teamed with Parks in the romantic duet “All I Ask of You.” This was followed by an abbreviated medley from Jesus Christ Superstar, which debuted 50 years ago and launched Webber to superstardom. Murphy returned to solo on “Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies, Webber’s much less successful 2010 sequel to Phantom.

The Classic Broadway show included “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, featuring Mamie Parris as Elphaba (wearing green gloves instead of green makeup) and Madison Claire Parks as Glinda. Photo by Bob Benenson.

The listed program ended with Stephen Schwartz’ “Defying Gravity,” the song from Wicked (2003) that Menzel—as Elphaba, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz—made famous (“So if you care to find me, Look to the western sky!”). Then the cast brought the performance full circle with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the uplifter from Carousel.

Fortunately, there were no storms for the audience to walk through as they headed out of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. To paraphrase from The Phantom of the Opera, the power of a not-so-humid night.

This is the all-too-soon final week of the Grant Park Music Festival’s 2021 season, which began late because of COVID restrictions, since lifted. The featured piece on Wednesday (August 18) is Franz Schubert’s Mass in G Major. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 headlines the concerts on Friday and Saturday. All concerts begin at 6:30pm. Most seats and the entire Great Lawn are free. Reserved seats upfront are $25 each and can be purchased for Wednesday by clicking here; for Friday by clicking here; and for Saturday by clicking here.

Bob Benenson
Bob Benenson

Bob Benenson is publisher/writer/photographer of Local Food Forum, a new newsletter that covers the broad sweep of the Chicago region’s food community. He is a longtime advocate for a better, healthier, more sustainable food system and is an avid home cook who gets most of his delicious ingredients from local farmers.