Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Jason Alexander with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule


Jason Alexander
Photo Courtesy of Jason Alexander and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
While Jason Alexander is best known for his award-winning portrayal of George Costanza on TV's "Seinfeld," he actually got his start on Broadway, having now appeared in six Broadway shows. Those who only know him from "Seinfeld" might be shocked to learn that before he became famous through that TV series he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1989 for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Alexander recently performed two concerts with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra where he got to show off both his musical theatre chops and his beloved comic skills.

Alexander's clear, exceptional singing voice and his agile dance moves perfectly combined with his natural comedic abilities throughout the concert. His ease in connecting with an audience was apparent through his ability to win them over, which was punctuated with his humorous, self-deprecating patter. The 80-minute act was a journey through Alexander's life, focused mainly on the musicals and artists that were significant to him when he was growing up. While the opening song, "So Exciting For You," which Alexander wrote, was very tongue in cheek in how it commented on how excited the audience should be to see him, it also set the tone for the entire concert—humorous yet heartfelt.

Alexander spoke about the Broadway shows that resonated most with him as a youth, either from listening to the cast recordings that his older sister had or attending the shows with his parents. "Trouble" from The Music Man received a breakneck delivery from Alexander that was full of hand gestures, fast-paced dance steps, and facial expressions that highlighted the lyrics of the song. A medley of songs from Pippin featured a lovely version of "Corner of the Sky" that also touched upon his fascination with magic as a small boy. Throughout his performances of these songs, he reminisced about his past, mentioning several times that he was a "short and husky boy from New Jersey," joked with the audience, and spoke how these shows influenced him to become a performer.

The first Broadway show he appeared in was the flop Merrily We Roll Along, which ran for only two weeks after opening in 1981. But his love for that experience, albeit brief, was apparent in his performance of a medley of songs from that show. His grasp of Stephen Sondheim's somewhat difficult music and lyrics was clear. He also appeared in another flop musical, The Rink, with Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli, and he sang a song identified with Minnelli, "Ring Them Bells," which included some inspired audience involvement.

The only misfire was when he spoke about how when he was a teen he either wanted to be a magician or a rock star. He then sang a medley of Billy Joel songs, all of which were used in the jukebox dance musical, Movin' Out. Unfortunately, Alexander's voice works better with classic Broadway than with "classic rock." Also, not including any song from the show that he won his Tony for, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, seemed a bit of a slight to that experience.

Fortunately, Alexander made up for these missteps with the inclusion of William Finn's "I Am There" from the revue Elegies, which he sang as a heartfelt tribute to his late father, and he ended his set with a silly and fast-paced showstopping medley of musical theatre songs from shows in which he believed he was denied the chance to play the lead. From The Phantom of the Opera to Evita, Show Boat and Jesus Christ Superstar, and with the use of dozens of props, he quickly morphed from one character to another in a perfect way to combine his love for musicals and comedy into a fitting and hilarious ending.

Husband and wife vocalist Laura Nicole Harrison and pianist Keith Harrison added some attractive vocals and accompaniment to Alexander's selections, and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, as usual, was exceptional throughout under the baton of guest conductor Larry Blank. Blank also led the orchestra in a 30-minute opening act that featured a combination of musical theatre orchestral pieces, including an exceptionally played overture from West Side Story as well as a fun, upbeat medley of TV theme songs. All of these opening selections played into Alexander's Broadway background and TV success.

The inclusion of "popular" concerts like this one in the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra's calendar allows concertgoers to experience a well-known performer like Jason Alexander doing something they may not be aware he is capable of doing. Alexander's well-structured show gave insight into his past, and his affection for musicals was as palpable as his passion and devotion to performing. His continued praise of the PSO throughout the concert was echoed by the practically sold out audience.

Jason Alexander appeared with the Phoenix Symphony for two performances on January 30th and 31st, 2016, at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.


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