In a celebrated paring of two Savannah institutions, the Savannah Philharmonic will be joined by the principal singers of the Savannah Theatre Ensemble for a veritable showcase of Broadway musicals.
Following a nearly sold-out 2017 Philharmonic concert featuring singers from the ensemble that highlighted Rogers and Hammerstein works, the Savannah Philharmonic decided to expand on that original idea and present a full plate of Broadway musicals.
“Our first Rogers and Hammerstein concert with the fantastic singers from the Savannah Theatre was such an incredible success, replete with all your favorite tunes and an energetic packed-out Civic Center, that it was an easy decision to do the same thing again,” Savannah Philharmonic Conductor Peter Shannon said in a press release.
The full Philharmonic, along with the chorus, will be joined by three married couples, Michelle Meeceand Matthew Meece, Bill Stelzer and Gretchen Kristine Stelzer, and F. Michael Zaller and Shannon Zaller for the Jan. 19 concert at Johnny Mercer Theatre.
“It is really a fantastic feeling as a singer to sing with that 40 or 50 pieces [of orchestra],” Savannah Theatre Ensemble co-founder F. Michael Zaller said. “It’s just so amazing and humbling for me to get to do that. You don’t get that experience too often as a singer, to get to sing with that full sound. It’s so wonderful. But then when you add on top of that the full Philharmonic chorus also singing with you on songs, like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” or some of these others ones… to get all of those, that full 50-person choir behind you singing the backups, it’s going to be phenomenal.”
The concert is a unique opportunity for both the Philharmonic and the singers — the latter of which perform around 250 shows a year at the historic Savannah Theatre. For orchestra members, pops concerts like this one give them a chance to explore a modern repertory of music.
For the singers, this concert represents a chance to break out of the normal structure of performing Broadway musicals. Typically, an actor would audition for a role in the production of a musical. Those roles are often typecast to fit the aesthetic of the play itself. In the case of a pops concert like this one, the performers have the chance to work outside that paradigm.
“For this, we get to pick songs that we would never do or cast as that role,” Zellar said. “We get to pick that song and do that song we’ve always wanted to do. Which is a great experience, as well. I am an actor first. I love singing, as well. When I approach a Broadway song, I am way more concerned with what the words are saying and where the story is going. The music enhances that. That’s how I approach it.
“Peter and I have great discussions. He’s coming at it from the music side and I say, oh I want to do this here, because this is what the character is thinking. He hadn’t thought of that. He’s thinking about hitting a note in a way that it does this. Between the two of us, we combine the two and it makes for a great collaboration. It’s really fun.”
The concerts' programing will span the distance of Broadway’s musical history. From The Golden Age of Broadway, the show will include numbers from “The Sound of Music,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Carousel,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” as well as modern day award-winners “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked” and “The Greatest Showman.” They will close the show with a medley of “Mamma Mia!” tunes.
“I'm a sucker for a good Abba tune, so I've added a medley from Mamma Mia!,” Shannon said. “I love doing these pops shows with Savannah Philharmonic’s orchestra and chorus. We had such fun at the Christmas concert doing the pops stuff; and though they are exquisite with the classical repertoire, I have to admit to having a lot of fun on stage with concerts like this. Add our friends from the Savannah Theatre to this mix and it’s a sold-out night of fun! See you there!”
“My wife is singing ‘Favorite Things’ from ‘Sound of Music,’” Zellar said. “You start to hear that song and for the next generation, my moms, that takes them to a place that is very special to them. There’s something cathartic about that.”