Those who attended Colm Wilkinson's Friday night concert already knew he could sing the daylights out of emotional ballads from Broadway shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables."
But I don't think too many were ready to hear him tear into a medley of Ray Charles songs, country tunes like Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" or the rollicking old blues number "I Got My Mojo Working."
There were more than a few surprises as the Irish singer gave a spectacular show at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts. His fans packed the place to see an artist who has won accolades all over the world for his appearances as the Phantom and as Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables."
The songs from those two shows were show-toppers, make no mistake. But the 62-year-old Wilkinson's versatility came as a surprise. The man started out singing with Irish rock bands like The Witnesses and The Action back in the 1960s, and since then, he has performed all kinds of music. During Friday's show, which lasted more than two hours, Wilkinson put his own stamp on the blues, country music and some Irish ballads. He started with a flourish, wearing his black "Phantom" cape and carrying a lantern onto the stage for the opening number, "Music of the Night." Wilkinson, who moved his family from Ireland to Toronto years ago, never slowed down after that. A funny, personable and theatrical performer, Wilkinson uses gestures and expressions to help tell his musical stories.
During a set of Irish songs, he told the audience that he has heard quite a few singers ruin "Danny Boy." He then proceeded with a moving, dramatic version of the song that had tears streaming down the faces of more than a few people - including me. Not surprisingly, he brought the house down with his two songs from "Les Mis," the powerful ballads "Empty Chairs" and "Bring Him Home." But I loved the surprise numbers, like "Tennessee Waltz," the old Animals hit, "House of the Rising Sun," and a version of "Imagine" that would have made John Lennon proud. Backed by an impressive six-member band, Wilkinson didn't disappoint those who came to hear show tunes and movie tunes. His versions of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Somewhere," from "West Side Story," had all of us wondering how a man in his 60s can effortlessly hit high notes that most male singers wouldn't even think of attempting in public. Wilkinson is a spectacular talent. If you get a chance to see him, do.
The Colm Wilkinson Fan Club
Canadian Premiere Tour
"Broadway And Beyond The Concert