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GREAT WHITE WAY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Celebrate Brooklyn will bring together two of Brooklyn’s most acclaimed institutions - the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the borough’s very own Broadway star, Lillias White - on Friday, July 25.

This will mark the first time that the Tony-winning Best Actress in a Musical (for "The Life" in 1997, for which she also won the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Award, and the People’s Choice Award) will have performed with the Philharmonic.

"It’s just never happened," she told GO Brooklyn. "But I can’t wait to go out there and sing with them behind me."

White, who grew up in Crown Heights and now lives in Harlem, counts among her other Broadway credits, "How to Succeed In Business without Really Trying," "Cats," "Once on this Island," "Dreamgirls" and "Barnum." She credits her work with another orchestra for affording her this opportunity.

"I believe it was because of Lorna Dolci, whom I knew from working with the Concordia Orchestra," she explains. "She put my name in the hat, so to speak, and the next thing I know, this program was being planned."

The program, which also officially kicks off the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s 50th anniversary celebration, relies heavily on the great American songwriters, like Leonard Bernstein, John Phillip Sousa, and two Brooklyn boys who made good - Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. That point especially excites White.

"[Singing these songs] is absolutely what I wanted to do within the framework of what this evening is all about," she says. "It’s a wonderful opportunity to sing some of my favorite music, which is something we don’t always get to do as performers. In addition to the classics, it’s also going to be a mixture of some jazz, some standards and some show stuff."

As is her custom, White doesn’t want to fully commit to what the evening’s program will be because she doesn’t always keep to the scheduled song list.

"I don’t really like to say what I’m going to do because I might change it," she notes. "Some musicians like to do it exactly as we originally rehearsed it, but I like to reserve the right to change something, depending on how it flows. But I will say that I’ll definitely be doing some Hoagy Carmichael and even something recorded by Barbra Streisand."

Speaking of Streisand, the biggest moment of White’s career happened in Brooklyn a couple of years ago, when she was given her star - actually a leaf - on Brooklyn’s Celebrity Path, right near Babs herself. "That was really a thrill for me," she says, "because I used to go to the Botanic Garden (where the Celebrity Path is located) when I was a kid, and I still can remember how beautiful it was there. It’s nice to know that I’m now part of that."

Since her current digs are merely a stone’s throw from her old neighborhood, White often treks to Brooklyn to check out the original stomping grounds, and to see if her memories of growing up have clashed with harsh reality.

"From time to time I do go back," she says. "I drive my kids around, pointing out to them what’s still there and what’s not there any more." After a pause, she says, "A lot has changed."

Following her Celebrate Brooklyn concert, White heads south to North Carolina, where she’s going to be one of the headliners at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem (Aug. 4-9). Her new one-woman show, "From Brooklyn to Broadway II," picks up where her first solo show left off, showcasing White’s tremendous voice through some of her favorite songs.

Will New Yorkers get the chance to hear her latest venture? There’s always hope, says White. "I always intend to bring it back locally," she says, "but right now I’m in the process of looking for a venue. So if anybody out there has one available, I’m all ears!"

The Brooklyn Philharmonic and Lillias White, under the baton of conductor Michael Morgan, will perform American songs on Friday, July 25, at 8 pm at Celebrate Brooklyn in the Prospect Park Bandshell. Enter the park at Ninth Street and Prospect Park West. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $3. For more information, call (718) 855-7882, ext. 45, or visit the Web site at www.brooklynx.org/celebrate. Rain or shine.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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