The night opened with Brightman's backing orchestra playing Op. 71, Act 2: No. 12 from The Nutcracker. Immediately thereafter, Sarah emerged from the back of the stage singing 'Ave Maria', then went immediately into a holiday favorite in the form of 'Oh Holy Night.'
Throughout the night she underwent several outfit changes, inclusive of both her long gown selections as well as multiple changes of the many headpieces she wore throughout the evening. In addition to the obvious choice of singing the opening of Phantom of the Opera later in the show, Brightman surprisingly also included song covers from genre artists which extended outside of Broadway, such as Linda Ronstadt's 'Winter Light', ABBA's 'Arrival', and Vince Gill's 'Colder Than Winter'.
There were 2 Acts for tonight's performance, separated by a 20-minute intermission. For me, I really enjoyed the 2nd Act as it seemed Sarah was more relaxed and comfortable with the song selections. In the very 1st song after the intermission, Sarah opened with 'Emmanuel / Do You Hear What I Hear' which had this James Bond-like instrumental intro. This was a nice arrangement as the song allowed for Sarah's lower singing register to be showcased, and she had a very lovely tone.
Brightman also engaged the audience more in between songs during the latter half of the show. Just after 'Do You Hear What I Hear' she shared with the audience that she attempts to treat her family to an evening at the opera each year, but sadly was not able to do so this year -- but then she continues, 'but tonight I'm with my audience family' which immediately drew the crowd into a personal space with her. She then addresses the audience again, sharing that we were about to hear 2 of her favorite arias, the 1st of which, 'Sogni', being a duet with classical crossover tenor Jay Dref. Brightman sustained the last note with this piece for an extraordinarily long duration, and the crowd was reminded of just how much power Brightman was actually capable of.
The concert then shifted some focus onto Jay Dref in the way of 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. The opening to this song drew a collective sigh from the audience who immediately knew they were in for a Christmas treat as Dref warmly and soothingly demonstrated his vocal prowess.
Again, Brightman opened up her personal space and gave thanks to the orchestra and maestro who had been skillfully accompanying her throughout the evening.
Brightman performed 'Silent Night' so well that at one point in the piece there was a pause and you could literally hear absolute silence within the theatre. I realized then that I was definitely not the only one there clinging to Brightman's every note.
'Pie Jesu' was now the 2nd time this evening (1st time was during the 3rd song 'O Holy Night') when Brightman had brought out Winter Garden's very own Caleb Haak onto stage with her. His extremely tender voice was sweet, endearing, and tear-evoking. The young Haak did his city proud and will be one to keep your eyes (and ears) on the lookout for future performances.
Sarah was joined again by Dref to duet 'The Phantom of the Opera'. On pins and needles, the audience knew that this was a once in a life opportunity for most of us to hear in person. Brightman seemingly summoned every past Phantom performance of hers and concentrated all of those into this show-stopping rendition in Orlando. I wasn't sure if I wanted to cry in excitement or clap and stand in admiration throughout the entire performance. Brightman's voice was beautiful the entire evening, but this was one of those times when you could brag to your friends later that 'you were there'. In all honesty, when that driving organ could be heard, the lights went down, and the masked Phantom was on stage with Brightman: most people would have handedly paid for their ticket for this 1-song performance alone. It was absolutely amazing!!
Just when I thought that my ears had heard the best, Brightman followed up with a solo performance of 'Time to Say Goodbye.' Phantom was going to be a tough song to follow, but her performance with this song was the only event that could have possibly followed, and she did it with equal impressiveness. Another amazing delivery!!
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Sarah Brightman's 2-hour show on this evening. There were several moments where, in the vast expanse of the Orlando theatre, it honestly felt like one was watching Phantom's muse on stage. It was easy to appreciate how Phantom could be enthralled with Brightman's stunning voice.