to ‘starving’ Santa Feans
Santa Fe restaurateur Michael O’Reilly was sitting in Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque in February, enjoying a performance of Broadway hits presented by stars of the New York stage and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He turned to his wife, Marge, and said, “We could do this.”
On Sunday, Aug. 29, a night after the curtain falls on the last performance of the Santa Fe Opera season, O’Reilly has his chance.
Broadway Comes to the Santa Fe Opera Theater presents the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra onstage with three Broadway stars in an evening of songs and music. Debbie Gravitte, Christiane Noll, and Doug LaBrecque sing standards including “Over the Rainbow” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” and more recent songs such as “Defying Gravity” from Wicked and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. The event benefits several nonprofits dear to O’Reilly’s heart as proprietor of the O’Keeffe Café and Pranzo Italian Grill. He hopes to raise between $50,000 and $65,000 for Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Foundation, Creativity for Peace, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Kitchen Angels, and the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. “This should help during tough times,” he said.
Gravitte won a Tony in 1989 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and has also appeared in They’re
Playing Our Song, Blues in the Night, Chicago, and Les Misérables. Noll was nominated this year for a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in Ragtime, and she starred in Jekyll & Hyde. LaBrecque played both the Phantom and Raoul in the Harold Prince production of The
Phantom of the Opera and also appeared on Broadway as Ravenel in Showboat. All three singers have made numerous appearances with symphony orchestras.
“Santa Fe is starving for Broadway shows,” O’Reilly said. Most national tours hit Albuquerque but not Santa Fe, he added, perhaps because producers perceive that the town lacks an appropriate venue or fear it will be hard to sell thousands of tickets. But there is no shortage of belters at local piano bars. Pranzo features an upstairs piano bar where David Geist — a veteran of such Broadway shows as Cats, Miss Saigon, The Lion
King, Wicked, and The Producers — has earned a following singing show tunes and other popular songs. “David has been selling out the first set every night for the last six months,” O’Reilly said. Santa Fe offers similar entertainment at Vanessie, where Charles Tichenor and Doug Montgomery alternate at the keyboard in August, and the Cantina at La Casa Sena, where a cast of singing waiters keeps things lively.
But bars are bars, and the Santa Fe Opera seats 2,200. O’Reilly is going for the big time with his symphony spectacle, even if it’s for one night only. “I don’t know if we’ll sell out, but it’s going well,” he said at an interview in downtown Santa Fe. In 2007, O’Reilly produced Porgy and Bess, also with the Santa Fe Symphony, and sold out two nights at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. He’s working with management teams from New York, radio station marketing people, and volunteers from the five nonprofits who are using the opportunity to offer something special to their donors.
O’Reilly enlisted Randall Craig Fleischer as conductor, because, he said, he was looking for a total showman. “Fleischer lives in Hollywood, and he’s a great conductor,” O’Reilly said. Fleischer, who studied with Leonard Bernstein, is music director of three orchestras and has conducted the New York City Opera, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony, among others.
Bringing the orchestra out of the pit and onto the stage for this performance presents special challenges. “The crosswinds can push the sound of the horns right off the stage,” O’Reilly said. Producers will surround the symphony with monitors, and a set of microphones should keep all the music going in the right direction. For the specialized Broadway scores, the 60-piece orchestra is augmented by electric guitar and bass, with Geist at the keyboards. The symphony opens the event with the overtures from Gypsy, West Side
Story, Chicago, and Jesus Christ Superstar. The singers follow with classic showstopper solos. Gravitte sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny
Girl and “Memory” from Cats. LaBrecque presents his version of “Over the Rainbow,” and Noll offers her coloratura soprano technique for “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide. The singers plan duets and trios for other numbers, including the theme from The Phantom of the Opera, “All That Jazz,” from Chicago, the Gershwin standard “I Got Rhythm,” Sondheim’s “Getting Married Today,” and a medley from Mamma Mia! ◀
▼ Broadway Comes to the Santa Fe Opera Theater ▼ 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29 ▼ Santa Fe Opera, seven miles north of Santa Fe on the west side of U.S. 84/285 ▼ $40-$170; 986-5900, 800-280-4654