by Joe Regan Jr.
Broadway Inspirational Voices is a Grammy nominated multi-racial gospel choir whose mission is to give hope, inspiration, and changed lives to children and youth in need through the universal power of inspirational music. On February 15 Marathon Live Entertainment (Mike Karns), Telly Leung Productions and R/J Productions (Rich Aronstein) presented Inspirational Broadway at B.B. Kings to benefit homeless youth sheltered at Covenant House. The concert was under the musical direction of James Sampliner, with Isaac Harlan on keyboard, Jerry DeVore on bass, Brian Koonin on guitar, and Joe Nero on drums. Most of the selections were loud and brassy; and the room was packed with friends and fans.
There was, recently, a similar concert in Philadelphia featuring Stephen Sondheim songs with Sampliner also as the music director. The opening number was an emphatic “Everybody Says Don’t.” Leung took the mike and sang a robust “You Gotta Be.” Then Lindsay Mendez, recently in Wicked, did a thrilling “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” backed up by three female members of the choir.
Marcus Paul James, from “Motown,” sang quietly and movingly his own composition, a ballad entitled “Paper Hearts.”
Jerrod Spector—who played Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” for six years and is currently playing Barry Mann in “Beautiful” on Broadway (for which he was nominated for a Tony)—sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” with great style. Expressing his admiration for Jason Robert Brown, he sang a heart-breaking “All the Wasted Time” from Parade.
Joshua Henry—with Tony nominations for “Scottsboro Boys” and “Violet”—was joined by Crystal McNee Hall and McElroy to sing “On My Way” from Violet. His sitting and playing the guitar was one of the wonderful moments of the evening and he received a standing ovation. His second number was a strong “Change Is Gonna Come” from Scottsboro Boys.
The Broadway Inspirational Voices conducted by Sampliner did a Sondheim megamix from the Philadelphia show, beginning with “Being Alive,” and included musical settings to Shakespearean Sonnets and “Stay With Me” from Into the Woods, before returning to “Being Alive.”
Chad Kimball—who earned a Tony nomination for his starring role in Memphis—did a raucous “Memphis Lives in Me” from that show.
Norm Lewis, introduced as the first black Phantom on Broadway, and who just finished City Center’s Encores production of Cabin in the Sky sang an effective “If I Ruled the World” from Mr. Pickwick. Then he introduced LaChanze, his co-star from Cabin, who reprised her definitive “I’m Here” from The Color Purple.
Then Billy Porter, rehearsing for Shuffle Along, wearing a blazing yellow shirt, led the ensemble in “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park. All sang joyously with him and the entire house gave Porter and the rest a standing ovation.
The sound system in B. B. King’s is not ideal for Broadway music and the waitstaff can be inept (my waiter had to take my order three times). The other thing that was strange was the announcement that if we wanted to contribute to Covenant House someone would be standing at the entrance to the club to give us envelopes. No one was.
Broadway Inspirational Voices played B.B. King’s on 42nd Street on February 15, 2016.