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Boom Is a Bust as Gaines’ Voice Crushes Songs

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Davis Gaines’ rich baritone is something to behold for its technical purity. It’s a striking instrument that commands attention, one the singer-actor put to good use during his five-year reign as the masked man in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” an amazing run of more than 1,900 shows.

Still, his voice can run amok. Throughout the first of a two-night engagement Friday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, the singer lost his grip in a frustrating, one-dimensional show. His formulaic approach went something like this: Begin the tune quietly, find a ladder to scale and belt out one crescendo after another. In effect, the 39-year-old Gaines used his greatest gift as a sledgehammer.

It’s that desire to overwhelm that Gaines would do well to temper. His propensity to indiscriminately swing for the fences was evident in numbers including “Somewhere Out There,” “This Is the Moment” and Sammy Cahn’s “All the Way.” His approach robbed the songs of deeper meaning and shading.

Gaines’ lack of charisma didn’t help. Considering his extensive background in theater, it was surprising to find Gaines looking so anxious and stiff during his 80-minute set. Although gracious, he shared few personal anecdotes or illuminating song introductions, which add a personal touch.

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Gaines has said he’s drawn to angst-ridden material about longing and love gone bad. Yet there was no indication of any introspection, pain or struggle in a delivery lacking inner turmoil and emotional complexity.

The only time Gaines climbed inside of a lyric to make it his own was on a moving rendition of “My Romance,” from the old musical “Jumbo.” (Gaines sang this selection, a favorite of famed director George Abbott, at the memorial service of his friend, who died a few years ago at age 107.)

This intimate love song glowed with warmth and tenderness as Gaines sang with conviction:

“My romance doesn’t need a blue lagoon,

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No twinkling stars . . .

Wide awake, I can make my most fantastic dreams come true,

My romance, doesn’t need anything but you.”

The Richard Kaufman-conducted Pacific Symphony Orchestra--which backed Gaines under the direction of David Lai--opened the program with a delightful set of film scores. Among the highlights was a rousing “Parade of the Charioteers” from “Ben Hur” and the West Coast premiere of a suite from “Titanic,” which featured an ethereal, romantic recorder solo by Cynthia Ellis.

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