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The McCallum Theatre Presented:
Hayley Westenra

Review - The Desert Sun - 12th February 2002

Palm Desert, California
Performance - 9th February, 2002

Teen measures up to comparisons

By Bruce Fessier
The Desert Sun
February 12th, 2002

Hayley Westenra, the 14-year-old singing sensation from Christchurch, New Zealand, received a standing ovation from a capacity crowd at the McCallum Theatre Saturday. So did her parents.

Whether the ovation was for the variety show the audience had just seen or whether it was a sign of appreciation for Westenra’s talent is a matter of opinion. I think it was an indication of how much the audience appreciated seeing young people apply their gifts to material they love, instead of the teen fare of Britney Spears that is attracting more attention from young people.

That was the message that came across from the format of the evening. The concert was billed as the American concert debut of this teen phenom who just signed with the prestigious London Decca label of classical vocal legends such as Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli. But Hayley didn’t appear on stage until after intermission. The first half featured a 15-year-old New Zealand violinist, a guitarist who is Hayley’s agent, and a part-time Palm Springs resident who began his career in New Zealand and is now a touring baritone.

The violinist, Ben Morrison, almost stole the show when he returned in the second act, generating a spontaneous standing ovation for his deft technique. But the buzz in the lobby at intermission was over why the first act opened and closed with the baritone, Max Jarman, who returned in the second act with Hayley and Hayley’s younger sister and brother.

But Hayley was a breath of fresh air when she finally appeared. She’s a regular kid, which is part of her appeal. She just happens to have a sweet voice with great tone and range.

Promoters have called her “the next Charlotte Church,” and the resemblance to the Welsh teen was apparent after Hayley’s second number, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem,” which Church covered well on her “Voice Of An Angel” CD.

Even the short length of her program got compared to Church. McCallum publicist Judi Pofsky said Church never sings more than 30 minutes.

After hearing Hayley sing such fare as “I Dreamed A Dream,” “Bright Eyes” and “Wishing You Were Here Somehow” from the ever-popular “Phantom of the Opera,” I’d say Hayley compares favorably to Church. She seems to have greater range, although Church’s voice may be richer in some areas.

Hayley doesn’t have the diction or power of trained singers in the opera showcases sponsored by organizations such as the PS Opera Guild and the Annenberg Theater, but that also may be part of her appeal. Audiences always enjoy seeing gifts from God more than products of a system or technology. It’s like when Tony Bennett turns off his mic and projects a capella. He gets applause because people sense they’re hearing raw talent.

Hayley’s 11-year-old sister, Sophie, actually seemed more theatrical, more in the moment, during her solo turn on “Thank You, Stars.” Hayley has The Voice, as she showed on Webber’s “Memory,” but she missed a chance to be more theatrical as a youth tackling an old-timer’s song.

Hayley’s encore of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel,” which Barbra Streisand sang so passionately on a recent Sept. 11 benefit on TV, also showed Hayley needs to work mostly on interpretation.

There’s no doubt that Hayley has a great natural voice. Let’s just hope she finds a coach who can give her the confidence to give full reign to her inner voice.

Thanks to Gareth and the CharlotteChurchCommunity on MSN for locating this review

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