Hugh Panaro, who is coming to the Garner Performing Arts Center Jan. 30, is one of the top leading men on Broadway.
He has starred in Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and LeStat. He has toured with Barbra Streisand and worked with Elton John on the development of a Broadway show. He has sung with symphonies around the world.
But he is breaking new ground in Garner.
He has never done a full-length solo concert.
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“The first time ever,” Panaro said.
His solo shows in the past have been shorter than the 90-minute show here and his full length symphony concerts include several arrangements for orchestra only.
“I assure you that I am as excited to be there as you are to have me there,” he said. “I was talking with my musical director at rehearsal and we were talking about how much fun this is going to be. I think it will be joyous.”
He said every song in the program is meaningful to him. Each was selected by him because it is special.
For example, he will be singing “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
Panaro made his debut as Marius in Les Miserables 23 years ago when Craig Schulman was playing the lead role of Jean Valjean. Years later, Panaro took the lead role.
“I have so many feelings about that show,” he said. “That was the first time my mother and father had the opportunity to see me on a Broadway stage and I was up there with such outstanding actors. It has a special place in my heart.”
Many people see Les Mis as a story of redemption. A convict is aided by a priest and is redeemed by experiencing the love of Jesus.
“But to me, Les Mis is more a story of trying to live a life the right way after being redeemed,” Panaro said. “When I played Valjean, I tried to pull out those places where he was still struggling. I think Valjean had a problem with jealousy. He was jealous of Marius, but he loved Cosette so much that he overcame that because of his love.”
Panaro said in his version of “Bring Him Home” he tries to bring out that life is still a struggle for Valjean. Life hasn’t become easy. Living unselfishly and lovingly is hard. That is a reality.
Panaro said Valjean doesn’t find peace until the very last moment of his life when he sings, “Forgive me all my trespasses, And take me to your glory.”
“I think most of us struggle our whole lives wanting to do the right things, but not always achieving that,” he said. “When I sing that song, I want to convey that.”
Panaro said five actors with identical scores, identical blocking and identical directing would have five different, but valid, interpretations of a role. A great example of that, he said, is his portrayal of Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.
Panaro has more than 2,000 performances as the Phantom. He also has more than 1,000 appearances as Raoul, Phantom’s rival for the affection of Christine.
His Phantom is a tortured soul who has been discarded by society. His Phantom’s development as a human being has been arrested because of the reactions to his disfigurement.
Panaro related with the character. He remembers being made fun of a child when he was overweight. He has seen that same type of hurt reflected in letters from people who were affected by his portrayal.
“When I was in the role I got all of these letters from people, many of them teenagers, who were struggling because they were different. They felt unworthy,” he said. “They were being bullied. They wanted to be accepted for who they were. They were hurting.”
Sandra Joseph, the longest running Christine in the show, once phrased it as people having to wear masks because they believe they are too ugly or too different to be accepted as they really are.
The really great shows, including Les Mis and Phantom, have truth, Panaro said. People respond to truth.
Alice Ripley, who starred with Panaro in Sidehow, said Panaro brings truth to the stage. She said he is a walking heart. Schulman said he is one of the great leading men in America and is “the nicest guy that you will ever meet. I mean that.”
Panaro said he is excited to come to Garner. Many of his friends – Norm Lewis, Craig Schulman, Christiane Noll, Capathia Jenkins, Susan Egan, Ashley Brown and others -- have been a part of the Broadway Voices series here.
This type of concert appeals to him, even though this is the first solo show.
He has loved musical theater since he was 12 years old and saw Andrea McArdle in Annie.
“I was bitten by the theater bug and I still love it,” he said. “If it didn’t I would need to find something else. Music needs to be fun. I think Garner is going to be fun.”
Tim Stevens: email@example.com