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Review: Savannah VOICE Festival ‘Make ’Em Laugh’

  • The full ensemble finishes out the night with a rousing encore of “That’s Entertainment” at the Savannah VOICE Festival’s 2017 production of “Broadway VOICES: Make ’Em Laugh.” (Photo by Joshua Peacock)

Review: Savannah VOICE Festival ‘Make ’Em Laugh’

16 Aug 2017

Into its fifth year, the Savannah VOICE Festival extended its run to three weeks, and if you attended any of their events, it’s abundantly clear why they’ve experienced success.

When you couple together world-renowned opera singers, festival founders Sherrill Milnes and wife Maria Zouves, with some of the strongest young working talent, it’s sure to trigger a hit. Put that killer combo in an historic city with charming venues and it creates a truly unique experience.

Broadway VOICES: Make ’Em Laugh” was the first the concert I was able to attend this year, on day nine of the festival. Fortunately, we’re not even half way through, so there is plenty of time to catch more stellar concerts.

For a couple of hours, Asbury Memorial Methodist’s sanctuary transformed to the Great White Way — not a completely unheard of transformation for the host of the “God on Broadway” concert series.

Coursing through a well-planned program of broadway tunes, the evening’s featured artist delivered a healthy sample — some staples and some rarities — of show tunes.

Beginning with a full ensemble showcase of “That’s Entertainment” from “The Band Wagon,” the ensemble broke into solos, duets, and occasional trios and quartets for a nonstop playlist of mostly funny and upbeat tunes, cut rather sharply by a handfull of more series tunes.

The programming was split rather equally between genders, but the men’s performances took center stage for me. From Chad Sonka’s deeply passionate handling of “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast,” to Jeffrey Martian’s hilarious take of “If You Love Me Please, Don’t Feed Me,” the men delivered in dividends.

Nan Qin’s exceptional and hilarious performance of “I Am Aldophino,” from “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Sonka and Carlton Moe’s take on “Agony II,” from “Into The Woods,” were the concert’s highlights. These are two exceptional pieces of music, that were handled with the upmost bravado and prestige warranted of a festival of this caliber.

The other noticeable highlight was musical director Dan Gettinger’s consistency. There were sometimes rather dramatic shifts in the music, which is to be expected when coursing through a two-hour medley of anything. Gettinger’s accompaniment was superb throughout the night. Accompaniment of any kind can be quite daunting to pull off. Gettinger’s seamless work laid an exceptional foundation for the performers.

The Savannah VOICE Festival, for the performances I’ve caught, have used a minimalist approach to staging over the years. Logically, this can be attributed to the high cost that full pageantry can entail, and the limited ability of some of the venues to offer a fuller experience (i.e. costuming, lights, full orchestra, etc.).

However, I find this trait of the festival to be one of its strongest. By approaching the staging with a minimalist mindset, the music take’s the spotlight, as it should. Not to berate a full production, of course, if you’ve ever experienced a full Broadway production, or an opera, the pageantry lends rather well to the visual stimulation of the experience.

But, this isn’t New York, as much as some people would like to think it is. This is Savannah. This is the dirty south, and we like it that way. If you venture into any active art sector in this city, you will find artists working from a DIY aesthetic. No one is waiting on a phone call from an investor to parade them to work. (Though it would be welcomed.) They are out there, doing it.

The Savannah VOICE Festival embodies the spirit of its host city, and delivers back to patrons a New York experience for half the price in a much greener and perhaps cleaner setting.