Internationally acclaimed singer Michel Bell revisits Natchez for performance

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Michel Bell is no stranger to Natchez. The internationally acclaimed singer made his debut in Natchez a few years after he wowed audiences in Toronto in 1993, New York City in 1994 and elsewhere, including London, on the road in the popular role of Joe in the musical &uot;Show Boat.&uot;

On Saturday, Bell will return to Natchez for a second fund-raising performance sponsored by the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce, Alcorn State University and Monmouth Plantation.

Tickets at $25 each are available at the Chamber, (601) 445-4611, 211 Main St.

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Tickets provide admission to his concert at 8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church and to and a reception afterward at Linden. Proceeds from the concert will be used to further the Chamber’s unification projects, said Laura Godfrey, Chamber president.

Many from the Natchez area attended the opening on Broadway of Michel Bell’s &uot;Show Boat,&uot; which drew heavily from historic photographs of Natchez and the river at Natchez for backdrops and props. About half of the scenes named Natchez as the locale in this Hal Prince version of the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Critics loved the show. And they especially praised the dazzling performance by Bell.

&uot;ŠFor true vocal prowess, no one onstage can match Michel Bell as Joe. When he utters his first words, his voice is so luxurious that the audience gasps. His rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River’ Š will give you goose bumps,&uot; said Frank Scheck, writing for The Christian Science Monitor.

&uot;Michel Bell’s deep bass rolls the first part of the number along like a force of nature,&uot; Lloyd Rose said in the Washington Post.

&uot;Š Bell’s voice acts as a chorus and hinge, linking the episodes of the play and opening the door to an underground world. It is a voice which seems to come belling up from a subterranean caveŠ,&uot;

said Susannah Clapp for the London Observer Review.

&uot;Show Boat&uot; may be the most important of Bell’s performances among Natchez fans. But his career includes many successes, one being his role as one of the original members of the Fifth Dimension.

He is especially known for his role as Porgy in George Gershwin’s &uot;Porgy and Bess,&uot; in which he has starred not only in American theaters but also in Germany, Japan, Italy, France and Egypt.

Since his performance in &uot;Show Boat,&uot; Bell has appeared in the Broadway musical &uot;Civil War.&uot;

And most recently he was a vocal soloist in &uot;Riverdance: The Musical.&uot;

Ron and Lani Riches, owners of Monmouth Plantation, are friends with Bell and his wife, Catherine Matejka, a music director, conductor and voice coach. The Richeses helped to bring Bell to Natchez. As sponsors, they are celebrating Monmouth’s 25 years of participation in Natchez tourism.

The Monmouth owners, who divide their time between Natchez and Los Angeles, purchased the historic house in February 1978 and conducted extensive and meticulous restoration there, completing the work in October 1980.

Alcorn State University, another sponsor of the performance, will provide a special appearance of its ASU Men’s Chorale as part of the benefit concert.