Musical theatre fans were entertained by the collaborative works of composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie on Sept. 11 during “Broadway at the Lied” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
“Broadway at the Lied” is part of the fourth biennial New Musical Theatre Workshop, a joint effort of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the Lied Center’s Grow a Show program. Frankel and Korie, who have written shows such as “Grey Gardens” and “War Paint,” were the panelists of this year’s event, running from Sept. 10-12, and featured at Wednesday night’s concert.
Before Frankel and Korie’s works were performed, five numbers from the Lied Center’s upcoming Broadway series were sung by University of Nebraska-Lincoln talent from both past and present. Krista Lawrence, a Glenn Korff School of Music masters alumna, performed the iconic song “Think of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera” while Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumna Karen Richards belted out “I Feel the Earth Move” from “Beautiful.”
Director Alisa Belflower narrated the show, introducing each artist, song and musical during the first segment. After School of Music masters alumna Kayla Wilkens sang “Love Will Come And Find Me Again” from “Bandstand,” Belflower brought out Frankel and Korie to warm applause, starting the main section of the evening.
For the rest of the show, 16 songs from various Frankel and Korie musicals were performed by UNL students and local talent. Between numbers, Belflower would casually interview one or both members of the duo to introduce the upcoming song or discuss their respective backgrounds.
While these segues were fairly interesting and kept the show flowing well, it was a tad disappointing they weren’t more insightful. Belflower mostly had them describe the plots of their musicals and asked surface-level questions about how they started out in their careers. While the discussion provided necessary context to both the songs and the artists themselves, there wasn’t much revealed that one couldn’t just read in program bios or look up online.
When the pair did dive deep into their creative process, it was fascinating. Frankel and Korie often approach songwriting as a way to tell stories set in a historical era that speak to modern audiences. Their musicals also tend to feature prominent female and minority characters, accurately and richly detailing their struggles, hopes and dreams.
For example, songs were featured from “War Paint,” which tells the relatively unknown story of real-life cosmetic industry rivals Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein and “Far from Heaven,” in which an interracial couple are broken apart by racism in 1950s Connecticut.
When Frankel and Korie spoke about the complex themes in their works, some truly magical moments were created, as the duo’s passion for powerful storytelling through music engulfed the audience. But those moments were unfortunately far too fleeting and few.
Where the interviews faltered, the individual performers shined. The show was blessed by an incredibly talented lineup of singers. Standout performances included “Peas in a Pod,” a fun mother-daughter duet from “Grey Gardens” that was enlivened by School of Music masters alumna Kellyn Wooten and UNL faculty member Lauren Silverman Durban. Eight performers also contributed to “The Pirate Inside” from “Finding Neverland,” a highly entertaining and humorous number.
These lighthearted performances provided variety and levity to the show. But the standout performer of the entire evening was current School of Music senior Matthew Carter.
Carter was featured in three songs throughout the show, including an emotional duet with Lawrence about a couple’s goodbye, “A Picture In Your Mind,” and “Progress Shuffles,” a passionate solo piece about how technological and economical progress tends to move slower for African-Americans than it does for white people.
He closed out the entire show with “Happiness,” featured as a soloist while the rest of the ensemble sang behind him. It’s easy to tell Carter is a superb talent with a rich, powerful tenor voice and captivating stage presence, conveying a broad range of emotions in his vocalizations. As one of the younger performers on stage, his poise and performing aura were well beyond his years. He was truly a joy to watch.
After Frankel provided a solo encore performance of his song “Around the World” on the piano, the 2019 “Broadway at the Lied” show came to a close. While Frankel and Korie’s insights maybe weren’t as in-depth as hoped, their excellent music — performed by deeply gifted musicians — did all the talking for them.