Colm Wilkinson has left home in more ways than one.
Once a young Dubliner, the 66-year-old singer settled in Toronto more than two decades ago after landing the role of the Phantom in the original Pantages Theatre production of “Phantom of the Opera.”
While he’s best known for that role, along with that of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” — first in London’s West End and then on Broadway — he’s spent much of the past few years touring the U. S., Canada and Ireland with his “Broadway and Beyond” revue, offering a sampling of show tunes alongside standards of other genres in a unique and surprisingly smooth show that returned Monday night to the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.
“Warm” was the word of the evening, from the comfort and sound of the Mainstage Theatre to the welcome Wilkinson was given by the crowd that filled the lower rows and first few of the balcony, to the way he wrapped his rich tenor around every tune while his backing septet simmered beneath.
Wilkinson took the stage to an instrumental workout of Phantom’s title tune and offered a pitch-perfect serving of the song that follows it, “Music of the Night.” He held the high C in the song’s vocal crescendo so clear and long that the crowd erupted before he had stopped.
Clearly comfortable in the room, he bantered affably for minutes before belting the next number, joking about many of his own jokes that a veteran crowd would have heard before, and urging them to “grin and bear it.”
He asked if anyone had traveled far for the show, and answers of Iowa, Ohio and Maine preceded an “Ireland” from the middle rows, to which a skeptical Wilkinson responded, “You didn’t travel all the way from Ireland, did you?” The believable brogue in the response prompted applause from the crowd and amazement from the stage.
Acoustic guitar in hand, Wilkinson’s take on the country standard “Tennessee Waltz” was the perfect follow-up, the grace of the waltz building a bridge from barn dance to Broadway. After a couple numbers from “Carousel,” he introduced “When Joanna Loved Me” with a story of meeting Tony Bennett and later receiving word that he’d sung the finest version of “Danny Boy” Bennett had heard. “Joanna” showed their common ground — they don’t merely sing songs, they inhabit them.
The goaded sing-along of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” introduced singer Susan Gilmore to spell Wilkinson for a few. He returned to deliver a solemn “Danny Boy” that certainly spoke to Bennett’s claim.
A sure highlight of the second set — which opened with standout songs from “Don Quixote” — was a transcendent take on the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.” Saying it was the first time he had played a Beatles’ song, he laughed and grabbed his guitar, harking to halcyon days as he flirted with “Get Back” and “Ticket to Ride,” before raising hairs with the high notes in the dramatic ballad’s debut.
That mastery of drama makes Wilkinson a main man in musicals, and though he’s left the warmth of that home, he’s built a new one to his liking — “to dream the impossible dream,” indeed.
Monday evening in the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre.
The Colm Wilkinson Fan Club
Canadian Premiere Tour
"Broadway And Beyond The Concert