By Brian Scott Lipton
For close to two decades the British quartet Queen, led by the stratosphere-defying vocalist Freddie Mercury, thrilled its millions of fans with some of the most ear-filling rock music ever created. But the band didn’t really take America by storm until 2018 (a full 27 years after Mercury’s death) and the release of the Oscar-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which introduced their catalogue of unforgettable songs to a new generation. In fact, the band’s 1981 album, Queen’s Greatest Hits, has now sold over 8 million copies in the U.S. (Admittedly, a series of concert tours— with former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert brilliantly stepping into Mercury’s shoes— and the licensing of Queen songs for countless TV commercials hasn’t hurt their re-emergence either.)
So it’s no surprise that Corey Mach’s popular Broadway Sings series almost instantly sold out its Broadway Sings Queen concert, held on Monday, February 17 at Sony Hall. What was perhaps slightly surprising, however, was how stunningly Mach and the other 14 artists onstage— aided immeasurably by a fabulous multi-piece band and the extraordinary arrangements of musical director Joshua Stephen Kartes— managed to make these now-ultra-famous songs their own. The talented performers often changed the tempos completely, singing with near-reckless abandon, and always fully committing to their mission.
Two-time Tony Award nominee Stark Sands immediately pushed the 90-minute set into high gear with a slowed-down version of the band’s signature anthem “We Will Rock You,” which gave full meaning to its trenchant lyrics and showed off Sands’ stunning vocals and guitar-playing.
Among the many male performers who also scored big were Marty Thomas, who delivered a hypnotic “Another One Bites the Dust”; the always incredible Jarrod Spector, whose percussive “Under Pressure” (originally recorded with David Bowie) was a remarkable feat of musicianship; Nick Rashad Burroughs who brought a kinetic, James Brown-style energy to “Don’t Stop Me Now”; and John Arthur Greene— whose huge arm muscles were almost as big as his voice— forcefully singing the elegiac “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Mach also wowed the crowd with a relatively straightforward take on “We Are the Champions,” although even then he cleverly interpolated a small section of the lesser-known “Princes of the Universe” into the arrangement.
Still, considering that Queen is (and was) a male-centric band, the many contributions of the women onstage were even more impressive, with the ladies more than holding own among their male counterparts. Lesli Margherita practically channeled Amy Winehouse in her magnificently fierce take on “I Want It All.” Taylor Iman Jones’ supremely soulful “I Want to Break Free” brought down the house, and Brennyn Lark lived up to her last name with an unbelievably gorgeous “Love of My Life.” Elsewhere in the show Alysha Umphress brought out all the sass with a jazz-tinged “Killer Queen,” Rachel Potter easily navigated the tricky shores of the plaintive “Somebody to Love,” and Kate Rockwell almost literally raised the roof with a mind-blowing “The Show Must Go On.”
As might be expected, Mach saved the group’s biggest hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for last, bringing out Broadway star Constantine Maroulis— a rock god of sorts in his own right (in tight-tight white jeans)— to lead the operatic-tinged number aside an onstage chorus. With his generous encouragement, Maroulis was helped (not that he needed it) by a standing-room-only audience eager to finally lend their own voices to an unforgettable evening.
Photos: KBarber Photography
Broadway Sings Queen
Performed February 17 at Sony Hall
Upcoming: Adele Unplugged (April 13 at Le Poisson Rouge)
Broadway Sings Taylor Swift (June 29 at Sony Hall)