Friday, September 30, 2022

Bringing soul to the keys: Opera House Theatre Company presents musical revue ‘The Piano Men’

WILMINGTON — After a successful two-weekend run of “The Rocky Horror Show” outside in Innes Park at the Thalian Hall Portico, Opera House Theatre Company (OHTC) is continuing its momentum of bringing live musical theatre to audiences in need of an-hour-and-45 minute-respite from the real world and all of its 2020 stressors. On Friday and Saturday night, two prolific pianists and singers, Nygel Robinson and Brian Whitted, will duel it out in a musical revue, “The Piano Men.” 

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Not to be confused with the famed tribute show to Billy Joel and Elton John, director Ray Kennedy said he devised this version of “The Piano Men” specifically for Robinson and Whitted. “Their versatility is why they have had such great careers in NYC, Las Vegas and all over the USA,” Kennedy said. 

While Kennedy’s version does feature songs by Elton John and Billy Joel, it also casts a wider net of musical stalwarts, including Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Barry Manilow, Carole King, even Mozart. There will be more than a dozen songs performed, including “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Piano Man,” and “My Cherie Amore.”

“I’d say [that’s] my favorite song,” Robinson explained of the Stevie Wonder classic, “because of the beautiful chord changes and the feeling of mystery you get from the song. Will he ever see her again? Will he end up with her? Songs like that let the listener create their own ending to the story, and I think that’s brilliant.”

Robinson is a Wilmington staple in theatre, having brought to life numerous productions, including “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Oklahoma” — the latter of which earned him a StarNews Theater Award for his role as Curly. Robinson relocated to the Big Apple to expand his career but returns to the Cape Fear occasionally to take back the local stage. Last year he visited to perform in OHTC’s “Five Guys Named Moe.”

Facing Robinson onstage, opposite on one of two baby grands, will be Whitted. The musical director has an impressive résumé. He’s known for his work on local productions, like “Las Cage aux Folles” and “Dreamgirls,” but has expanded beyond southeastern N.C. to work with the likes of Roberta Flack, BeBe Winans, Phylicia Rashad, and Brian McKnight, among others.   

Robinson and Whitted will be joined by drummer Mitch Hebert and guitarist Galen Hunsucker. Backup singers Sydney Jones, Devon Jones, Sydney Short, Marley Alliah and Bianca Shaw will round out the numbers.

“It’s a gigantic collaborative effort to put on a show like this, and I find that to be so rewarding,” Robinson said. “Playing and singing is not an easy thing. There’s a certain pressure one feels when they are in charge of two elements of the musical experience.”

The revue will break from its concert format during “Uptown Girl,” which will feature a fashion show, and again during “Do You Wanna Dance,” when Brooklyn Williams will perform a dance solo.

“Brian Whitted did ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ with Bette Midler in Las Vegas,” Kennedy praised. 

“The Piano Men” will run Friday and Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Thalian Hall Portico. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at thalianhall.org.

“These songs are timeless and people want to hear them done well,” Robinson added. “That alone makes the job hard.”


Have arts news? Contact Shea Carver at shea@localdailymedia.com

Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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