Broadway star Panaro delivers before sold out crowd at the GPAC
Hugh Panaro dazzled a sold out crowd at the Garner Performing Arts Center during his Broadway Voices concert and then gave the bulk of the credit to the people of Garner.
“The audience had as much to do with tonight as me or Joe (Thalken, Panaro’s musical director),” Panaro said. “The audience tonight was as involved as we were. Making music is about giving and receiving. Tonight, we received as much as we gave.”
If that’s the case then Panaro’s concert was a massive gift exchange because Panaro gave a lot.
Panaro, best known for more than 2,000 Broadway performances as Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, delivered over two hours of songs and stories to an appreciative audience.
Panaro has an extraordinary Broadway resume and has travelled the globe giving concerts, but the Broadway Voices’ concert was his longest solo show. In fact, it was his first two act solo show.
He often sings with symphonies or with other artists and his solo shows usually are shorter. For example, he left Garner for a series of concerts in Mexico, where concerts are expected to be less than one hour.
“I have really looked forward to being here,” he said. “I’m excited. Joe is excited. My mother is excited. This is something new to me. It was such a joy.”
His Garner concert attracted fans from Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New York and throughout North Carolina. They were treated to an evening of old favorites and songs that were not as well known, but were meaningful to Panaro.
For example, Sir Elton John wrote a song specifically for Panaro for Broadway’s Lestat, a musical about a vampire who would not age and die. As the vampire’s brother is dying, Lestat contemplates whether it would be better to make his brother into a vampire, or to allow him to die.
Bet you don’t have that one on your play list.
But Panaro hit all the musical notes by including many of the songs for which he is known, including remarkable renditions of “Music of the Night” from Phantom and “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. They received standing ovations, or as Panaro would phrase it, “positive feedback” from the audience.
Panaro played the role of Marius in Les Mis more than 1,200 times on Broadway and later assumed the lead role of Jean Valjean. His interpretation of the show’s penultimate “Bring Him Home” emphasized Valjean’s strong emotions, including anger, in the sung prayer. It was remarkable.
Panaro’s stellar performance had some surprises, and not just in the song selections.
He entered for the second act from the rear of the historic auditorium with “Willkommen” from Cabaret. He dashed outside and around the building, but realized his microphone still was on stage.
Thalken, who has been the musical director for the likes of Broadway megastars Liza Minelli, Julie Andrews, Patti Lupone and Bernadette Peters, was left playing the intro over, and over, and over as the mic was secured.
All was fine in the auditorium, though. Thalken, who earlier had sung with Panaro on “Sara Lee,” made it all seem like part of the act, a pianist abandoned in mid concert.
The biggest surprise of the night was Panaro summoning long-time friend Susan Wing from the audience to sing with him. He has known her since childhood in Philadelphia although she now lives in the Triangle.
Panaro played Raoul, the young love interest in Phantom before taking the leading role. He asked Wing to sing “All I Ask of You” with him and they used the choreography that originally was used by the Broadway cast.
She held her own with Panaro in a stunning performance. The duet was one of the highlights of the evening.
Thalken was sensational. Many of the songs featured his playing, which often elicited ovations.
Neal Padgett, the Garner Chamber of Commerce president and a series producer, said this show, and the shows of the last five years, were what was envisioned when the series started.
“I still can’t believe how remarkably talented these artists are,” Padgett said. “These are the biggest stars on Broadway and they are coming here and giving our community this tremendous gift.
“Having Hugh Panaro here was certainly a great night for our community.”
Panaro said he wanted the show to feel like the audience had dropped by for the evening to visit, a few songs were sung, a few stories told and everybody went home happy.
He helped ensure the happiness part with his encore number, “Moon River.” It was a perfectly exquisite ending to a perfectly exquisite evening.
David Burnham, best known as Fiyero from Wicked, wraps up the sixth season of Broadway Voices on April 30.