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'Country' hits the big city



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NEW YORK -- "This is kind of weird, right?" Brian Stokes Mitchell asked the audience that had gathered at Frederick P. Rose Hall Saturday night for Broadway Meets Country.

The Tony Award-winning leading man was referring to a concert that brought together stars and songs from both genres, just a few days before Manhattan was set to play host for the first time to the Country Music Association Awards. XM Satellite Radio's On Broadway channel will broadcast the concert next week at various times starting at 12 p.m./9 a.m. ET/PT, Nov. 24. Additional times will be listed at www.xmradio.com.

But Mitchell and his co-host, multiple CMA award nominee Lee Ann Womack, observed that the event, a joint benefit for the Actors Fund of America and the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, wasn't as incongruous as it may have seemed. Country songs and show tunes are, after all, both rooted in a strong narrative tradition that emphasizes melodies and lyrics.

And where contemporary pop stars are relying increasingly on tone-enhancing and pitch-correcting technology, it's a given that Broadway and Nashville crooners can, as Mitchell put it, "sing their butts off."

That's exactly what the members of Saturday night's lineup did, even as many ventured into less familiar musical territory. Marin Mazzie, Mitchell's co-star in an acclaimed revival of Kiss Me, Kate, turned in a sassy version of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5, while Mazzie's husband and fellow trouper, Jason Danieley, tore exuberantly through the John Michael Montgomery hit Sold.

Tables were turned in the opposite direction when Raul Malo delivered a meaty rendition of Stephen Sondheim's Being Alive, and Neil McCoy offered a lean, jazzy take on Lerner and Loewe's Almost Like Being in Love. Country legend Glen Campbell earned a standing ovation for his soaring performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic You'll Never Walk Alone.

Other highlights included a series of duets. Supple-voiced American Idol winner Carrie Underwood joined theater and screen actor Patrick Wilson for Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, while Trisha Yearwood and Saycon Sengbloh, who is featured in the new musical adaptation of The Color Purple, harmonized radiantly in For Good from Wicked.

Fashion roles were reversed as well, with many Broadway babies favoring jeans, among them original Annie star Andrea McArdle, who teamed with Jamie O'Neal for I Know Him So Well, a ballad from Chess. O'Neal, in contrast, wore a black Donna Karan gown. "I'm not a big dress person, but it's New York, and I wanted to fit in," said the country singer/songwriter.

Underwood, also in black, wore an off-the-shoulder David Rodriguez top and a lacy Guess skirt. "But this outfit is all about the shoes," she chirped, pointing to a pair of Moschino pumps with straps.

Underwood, whose debut CD is due Tuesday, said that Broadway musicals are "definitely something I'm interested in. I think I'm a really bad actress, but I'm not really sure because I've never tried. "

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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