Remember how magical it was to emerge from the Hawaii Preparatory Academy or the Kahilu Theater with the music of the night from a Hawaii Performing Arts concert still in our ears? It seems so far away and long ago!
At noon instead of at night, in order to accommodate artists performing from the Eastern time zone, and in our respective living rooms instead of at Hawaiian venues, HPAF aficionados gathered round our computer screens, some of us with a cup of coffee, some with an early glass of wine, to hear the first of three concerts comprising HPAF’s High Season.
Bronson Norris Murphy is a consummate interpreter of characters, particularly from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals. While he has performed in many roles including ten different ones in The Phantom of the Opera, it was his premier as the Phantom in Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns, which earned him “phame” and “phans.” It seems he was born for the role; even as a boy, he loved the phantom, dressing up as that character on Halloween. Talk about dreams come true!
Since it will soon be Halloween, Bronson put together songs to tell a story about a truly scary phenomenon: love. First, he invited us to leave the mundane surrounding of our living rooms to take a magical flight. In “The Imagination Medley” his animated voice took us up and away. The trajectory of love he maps for us begins with the excitement of a young man’s anticipation of “something,” without knowing what to expect. “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story, with an agitated piano accompaniment from Eric Kang, captured that state perfectly. When the something turns out to be a someone, the arrival of attraction packs a wallop like grabbing onto an electric fence. “What Is It about Maria?” melds “Maria” from West Side Story with Andrew Lippa’s “What Is it About Her” from The Wild Party. Bronson’s theatricality is evident as he turns his singing of the name “Maria” into a scream, with emotional impact like Marlon Brando yelling for “Stella” in Streetcar Named Desire.
We were promised “spooky” moments, and that came in the arrangement of two songs from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, “I Put a Spell on You” and “Hello Little Girl.” These gave me the creeps, as they are the words of sexual predators, men who drug women, men who prey on young girls; we’ve seen too many of those in real life recently. Beyond spooky. Still shaken, I could not share the sadness of the male characters who lost the women they loved, even though Bronson’s singing evidenced genuine pain. I thought instead about how happy the women must have been to leave the guy to fulfill their own desires, not the expectations of a man.
But then came a high point of the performance, a duet with soprano Madison Claire Parks, “You Are for Loving” from Meet Me in St. Louis. Bronson sings alone, then she joins in in counterpoint, and then they end in perfect harmony; sometimes, or at some times, love can be so sweet. “Til I Hear You Sing the Music of the Night,” one of Bronson’s greatest hits, bewitched again, as he drew the trajectory of love in a lifetime to a close. As mature adults, “With So Little to be Sure Of,” as Sondheim says, love can endure into a stabilizing and comforting force.
Bronson’s voice is three dimensional, with the capacity to dive low or soar high; he can belt it out at top decibels, and then hold pianissimo high notes softly and surely, without getting the least bit out of breath. All these tools, plus the clarity of his diction, bring his characters to life with all their emotional nuances. There is only one word for the flight of fancy Bronson Norris Murphy curated for us in song: phantastic.
About the author: Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.