Benjamin Matthews, William Warfield, and Rober Sims | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Benjamin Matthews, William Warfield, and Rober Sims 

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At 81 bass-baritone William Warfield might not have the stamina or the nearly flawless delivery of his younger days, but he retains the remarkable sense of drama that has made him an audience favorite for five decades. Though his debut recital in 1950 garnered impressive notices, he was ignored by the Metropolitan Opera (a racially conservative house that didn't engage Marian Anderson until 1955) and instead found success in the theater, starring in the musical Call Me Mister. Cast in the MGM remake of Show Boat, he turned in a robust rendition of Jerome Kern's "Ol' Man River" that rivaled Paul Robeson's; like Robeson, Warfield sang with an intelligence and sadness that invariably brought listeners to tears, and in a celebrated production of Porgy and Bess (costarring Leontyne Price, his wife at the time) he showed considerable skill as an actor too. Warfield has sung in oratorios, narrated musical works, and appeared in operas (most famously Marc Blitzstein's Regina), but his voice will forever be identified with the Kern and Gershwin shows, and selections from them are a mainstay of his repertoire. In 1999, following the popular success of the Three Tenors, Warfield teamed with bass-baritone Benjamin Matthews and baritone Robert Sims in a trio representing three generations of African-American singers; both men are champions of the spiritual and exceptional theatrical singers in the Warfield mold (Sims, the junior member, is particularly impressive). Each of the three will perform solo, accompanied on piano by William Koehler, then the trio will present medleys of well-known folk songs. Saturday, November 3, 7:30 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-475-1150. Warfield will also appear solo with the Community Players of Chicago, conducted by Philip Simmons, on Sunday, November 4, 3 PM, Mather High School, 5835 N. Lincoln; 847-475-4819.

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