A century of classics

The Big Apple is coming to Bristol Riverside Theatre Aug. 10–20 with ‘Broadway Then and Now’

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Countless top-40 pop songs have come and gone over the years. But the classics of Broadway, from Phantom of the Opera to Cabaret, have remained a staple in society’s musical vocabulary for more than a century. From Aug. 10–20, Bristol Riverside Theatre is taking audiences on a musical journey as it concludes its Summer Music Fest series with Broadway Then and Now featuring old and new hits in one captivating concert.

It’s showtime: Tasha Waters enjoys the ability to express emotion through songs, and will be performing the classic I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables and the recent hit Burn from Hamilton. PHOTO: Bristol Riverside Theatre

A Broadway-related production has become a summer staple at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, according to artistic director Keith Baker, and continues to be its biggest seller. This is largely due to the top-notch cast Baker manages to secure year after year, as well as his collaboration with them. Though he usually has a vision for the production, he waits to make concrete decisions until he sees the strengths and dynamic of his cast.

“I build around the performer,” Baker said. “I only want to do songs the performers have a meaningful connection to. It’s not just an acting exercise. There’s a real reason for doing it.”

Each of the cast members spends time brainstorming with Baker, and together they arrive at the right songs for not only them, but for the overall feeling of the show.

For performer Tasha Waters, who was recently seen in BRT’s When America Sings, it’s all about the freedom to express emotions through her chosen songs. From her solo performances of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables and “Burn” from Hamilton, to a West Side Story duet and a George Gershwin medley, audiences are able to feel her despair and heartache from their seats.

“There’s something about the ability to tell a story through music that’s really special,” she said.

Waters will be performing alongside an intimate cast of five that includes Maggie Griffin-Smith, who was seen this season in Rosemary Clooney & Friends and Jesus Christ Superstar; Luke Grooms, who performed in previous BRT summer concerts including Broadway Serenade and Broadway Gold; Keith Spencer, who is celebrating is 23rd concert at BRT; and Kristin Titus, who is making her BRT debut.

Local stars shine: Bristol Riverside Theatre veteran Maggie Griffin-Smith was recently seen in the productions of Rosemary Clooney & Friends and Jesus Christ Superstar. PHOTO: Bristol Riverside Theatre

Audiences can expect to hear everything from George Gershwin to Hamilton and everything in between, such as hits from 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Showboat, Secret Garden, Wicked and The King and I.

Joined by Baker and the BRT Concert Band, the cast will perform hits from these Broadway classics in a concert-like setting. Though they won’t be dressed in elaborate character costumes surrounded by intricate props, all of the emotion will still be there as if the song was plucked directly from the Broadway production.

“It’s so good,” Baker said of the music. “It tells stories in a way that never gets old.”

Though he has seen dramatic shifts in the Broadway landscape over the years, it’s due to the natural changes of what society wants and relates to. The main difference is the style of music and lyric content. After 1970, Baker explained how the songs became less about falling in love and more about the character’s problems and inner doubts.

This creates the challenge of finding a happy medium to attract older audiences who like the classical love story and younger ones who prefer a more rock-infused sound. With Broadway Then and Now, Baker hits the entire spectrum to please all generations. While many of the songs will be familiar and allow audiences to hum along, others will be a new experience, which Baker says is the magic of the production.

“I’m the biggest cheerleader for live performance,” he said. “You never hear this music unless you seek it out.” ••

IF YOU GO…

Broadway Then and Now performances are Thursday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 11 and 18, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, at 8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 13 and 20, at 3 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 16, and Thursday, Aug. 17, at 2 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 19, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Tickets starting at $32 are available by visiting brtstage.org or calling the BRT Box Office at 215–785–0100. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St. in Bristol.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com