By Brian Scott Lipton
2016 was a tough year for music lovers, as some of its greatest artists ascended into the eternal pantheon. But probably no two deaths were more deeply felt than those of English glam rocker David Bowie and American R&B superstar Prince. Well, one can only hope these two genius were smiling down on the Highline Ballroom on Monday night as a remarkable group of singers and musicians – 30 in all — came to pay homage to them and their work in “Broadway Sings Bowie/Prince.”
As has been this case with this popular series, the tunes have been rejiggered – sometimes drastically – to suit the strength of the performer or to give them a unique reinterpretation. That mission was evident from moment one, when the powerhouse vocalist Ariana DeBose (currently starring on Broadway in “A Bronx Tale”) not only found her own groove in singing the Motown hit “Dancing in the Street” (which had been covered in 1985 by Bowie and Mick Jagger), but was joined by Ari Groover, who added a little rap section to the song.
Bowie’s songs underwent some of the strongest transformations: the iconic “Changes” was performed as a Sinatra-style ballad by Jessica Keenan Wynn; Joel Perez delivered a Latin-flavored “Life on Mars”; and Corey Mach blended “Starman” with “Over the Rainbow,” creating something ethereal and distinctly otherworldly; and Van Hughes, dressed in jeans rather a metallic jump suit, turned “Ziggy Stardust” into a true salute to the power of the guitar player. Jennifer Noble’s simple rendition of “Heroes” was among the evening’s most straightforward selections, although it gained added resonance with the addition of a few lines from Prince’s classic “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
Prince’s vast catalogue, which was only sampled, led to many of the show’s most electric moments: Christina Sajous’ all-out rendition of “Darling Nikki”; John Pinto Jr’s’ Little Richard-esque take on “Kiss”; Robin de Jesus’ haunting “The Beautiful Ones”; and Ruby Lewis’ hard-rocking, gut-wrenching “When Doves Cry” were all extremely memorable. But Mach (who produced and directed the show) saved the best for last: Dee Roscoli’s roof-raising, Janis Joplin-like rendition of “Purple Rain” was not only a performance no one should have to follow, it left the audience ready to sing and dance in the streets of Chelsea.
I, for one, can’t wait to hear what will happen when Broadway Sings takes on Lady Gaga later this spring (date to be announced). I am sure they won’t just be on the edge of glory; they will step right over it!
Photos: Shira Friedman
Broadway Sings Prince/Bowie was performed at the Highline Ballroom (431 West 16th Street. 212-414-5994) at 8pm on Monday, February 6.