Renee Lawless spent much of Wednesday trying to get from Los Angeles to The Villages. It took more than airport delays, lack of sleep and jet lag to stop her from singing with Maestro Bill Doherty.
Lawless – star of the OWN television series “The Haves and The Haves Not” – was among the performers in “Broadway Stars” Thursday at St. Timothy Catholic Church. Proceeds benefit Central Florida Lyric Opera.
The cast also included Grant Norman, who played “The Phantom” on Broadway, as well as Christina Sivrich, David Chernault, and Brian and Melissa Minyard.
“I spent seven and half hours trying to fly here, and I’m a little tired but raring to go,” Lawless said before the concert. “I’m here because Bill Doherty called me and wanted me here. I love working with Bill.”
It was like old home week for these Broadway veterans. Both Norman and Lawless appeared on Broadway in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Both sang songs from the production. Norman brought a sense of painful romance to “If I Can’t Love Her,” while Lawless was just as powerful on the title song, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Lawless then told a funny tale about what happened one night when she was playing the teapot – Mrs. Potts – on stage in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Lawless wore a special teapot costume with a pipe on her arm and a belt around her body to hold up a sack filled with dry ice and warm water. It gave the illusion on stage of steam coming out of teapot
Somehow, the belt got loose and slowly slipped down her waist to the floor. Lawless had to step out of the belt and away from the watery ice, but the pipe remained attached to her arm.
“That was quite a night and that’s my funny story,” Lawless said.
Melissa Minyard appeared in “Les Miserables,” and “I never tired of that show,” she said. Minyard then gracefully sang “I Dreamed A Dream” from that production.
She joined her husband – Brian Minyard – for a rousing duet on “So In Love,” from “Kiss Me Kate.”
“This is a lot of fun for us and it’s special,” Melissa said. “We don’t get to sing together much, and it’s wonderful to do it in a setting like this.”
David Chernault marked his Villages’ debut with a song from “Annie.”
“I work with Grant (Norman) at Disney and he asked me to be here, and I’m glad I came,” Chernault said. He sang a song by the character Daddy Warbucks.
“I was an understudy for Daddy Warbucks while touring with ‘Annie.’ “I never got to sing it back then, so I’m going to sing it now,” he said.
Chernault entertained the packed church as he went into the audience and interacted with people while singing.
Grant Norman hosted the concert and gave it a jolt of lasting energy. Early on, he teamed with Chernault and Brian Minyard on a lively “…Can Do” from “Guys and Dolls.”
The male trio joined forces once more on “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” from “South Pacific.”
Melissa Minyard was joined by the St. Timothy choir on a spirit-lifting “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”
The mood lightened up for Christina Sivrich, who has appeared in productions of “The Wedding Singer” and “Grease”
“I think I played a 1959 high school student more than anyone else,” she said, referring to “Grease.” She brought a zesty style to “Popular” from “Wicked.” Angie Rose made a guest appearance, singing with Lawless on another “Wicked” number, “For Good.”
That set the stage for Grant Norman to perform “Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Norman has played “The Phantom” in New York and London and toured with the production around the world.
“But I never get tired of this song,” Norman said. “I believe the pinnacle role for a male singer is “The Phantom.”
“The challenge for a singer is to commit to a song and feel the song,” he said. “If I can do that and feel it, I can translate the song to you in the audience. It moves me and hopefully, it moves you.”
Norman moved the entire audience with “Music of the Night.” He made the singer and the song become one and shared it in a universal way with everyone at the church.
“It’s an honor to have these performers come here and sing,” Doherty said. “And it’s a thrill to see and hear Grant Norman sing that song.”
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.