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Bristol’s Summer Music Festival moves outdoors

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For those who are itching to see live entertainment again, but don’t yet feel it wise to spend time in crowded indoor spaces, Bristol Riverside Theatre is providing the perfect solution.
This year, with support from William Penn Bank, it is presenting the Summer Music Fest – an annual series of snazzy pop- and show-tunes concerts – outdoors at the spanking new Bristol Township Municipal Park Amphitheater.
The term “amphitheater” is a bit misleading – as it’s really just a big, only-slightly-sloped lawn with a raised-platform stage at one end – but the concert-going experience it facilitates is fabulous. There’s plenty of parking, clean indoor bathrooms, and a concession stand that sells inexpensive snacks and beverages. It also sells lawn chairs and blankets, but it is recommended that you bring your own “seats.”
While traffic noise is sometimes noticeable, the bordering road nicely separates the venue from the nearby forest, thus keeping mosquitos at a minimum.
For the opening performance of the “Broadway Memories” program on June 18, the physical environment proved exquisite: There was a delicious breeze, a modest-sized, enthusiastic crowd, and a captivating view of the half-moon in the sky directly above the stage.
The performance platform is covered by a softly curved wooden roof that a friend of mine said reminded her of the Bristol wharf. Yet despite the somewhat rustic environment, the show exuded the sophisticated, fancy-nightclub atmosphere we’ve come to expect from these slick concerts, with four top-notch singers (most with Broadway credentials) dressed to the nines and accompanied by a tight combo of exciting instrumentalists led by musical director and emcee-keyboardist Keith Baker.
The concert’s title led one to expect an evening of beloved chestnuts from shows of the mid-20th century, the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. Yet while we did hear classic tunes by songwriters such as George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein, as well as numbers from such well-known shows as “Hello, Dolly!” and “The Music Man,” some of the program’s most enjoyable performances were of lesser-known material from relatively recent Broadway musicals.

Enhanced by his solid acting chops, Sean Thompson’s performance of the comedic “You’ll Be Back” – the taunting song King George III sings to the Colonists in “Hamilton” – emerged as one of the evening’s early highlights and a reminder that the score of that mega-hit show is not composed entirely of rap music.
Joined by Derrick Cobey, Thompson then gave a heart-rending performance of the duet “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden” that makes us wonder why this affecting number isn’t more widely performed. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the gorgeous duet Thompson sang with Rebecca Robbins, the pairing “Before and After You”/”One Second and a Million Miles” from the 2014 musical “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Not well-reviewed, the show ran only three months on Broadway and was essentially forgotten. Who knew its Tony-winning score by Jason Robert Brown contained such achingly beautiful music?
Additional program highlights included impressive ensemble renditions of songs from “Cabaret,” “42nd Street,” and “Smokey Joe’s Café” by the vocal quartet (which also included Elyse Langley), and violinist Claudia Pellegrini’s astoundingly dramatic solo performance of a medley of tunes from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The concert series will continue with two more programs produced by BRT – “Totally Awesome 80s” (July 16-18) featuring pop tunes from that decade, and “Broadway Ahead” (August 13-15), a program of songs from contemporary musicals – plus two additional concerts, “’70’s Flashback” (July 30-31) and “The Doo Wop Project” (Aug. 27-28).
Visit brtstage.org for tickets and information.


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