It was going to be a big night out, and Kathie Bibeau was excited.
She figured the show at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House would be a perfect hybrid - the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber performed by one of Bibeau's favorite singers, pop crooner Michael Bolton. Bibeau and her husband Al, theater aficionados who have seen numerous Lloyd Webber productions, bought tickets to the show for themselves and two as a going-away gift to friends who were moving out of town.
The night of the show, the foursome went out to dinner. Bibeau chatted excitedly with her friends about the upcoming performance. Soon after, she settled into her seat at the theater and waited to see Bolton. The show opened with an orchestra piece. Then a dozen singers came onstage and performed solos. Still no Bolton. By the time the star she'd come to see appeared, Bibeau was crestfallen.
"At the end of the first act, about a good 45 minutes into the show, he came out," she said. "I was devastated. It was horrible."
Bibeau wasn't the only disgruntled audience member. In the weeks following the Baltimore performances, Renee Miller, the marketing director for Performing Arts Productions Inc., which booked the show, said the company received about 20 complaint. Miller said the complaints, which were answered by letter, concerned Bolton's brief time onstage rather than the quality of the show, which played June 13 to 18 in Baltimore and was billed as a performance of Lloyd Webber's music, with Bolton as the special guest star.
The production has played three runs in the past and each featured a well-known theater name - "Phantom of the Opera" star Michael Crawford, Colm Wilkinson from "Les Miserables" and Betty Buckley, who starred in "Cats." Merging the worlds of pop music and musical theater, Miller said, seems to have created conflicting expectations.
"Because he's a pop artist, I think people thought it's Michael Bolton singing all the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber," she said. "But anyone familiar with the show would know that's not how it's done. It certainly was never supposed to be a Michael Bolton concert. That was never our intention."
Bolton performed five songs during the show, and Bibeau feels that print ads featuring Bolton's face, surrounded by names of show tunes, were misleading. She also blames Bolton for misleading his fans when he told a Sun reporter during an interview that he'd be "playing one song after the other" during the show.
"It was gross misrepresentation," she said. "I expected he would have singers and dancers backing him up and this huge orchestra behind him."
This weekend, Bolton is in Cleveland on the Andrew Lloyd Webber tour and unavailable for comment. But his manager, Louis Levin, said radio and television ads clearly presented the show for what it is - a Lloyd Webber showcase, not a Bolton concert.
"The spots make it clear he's a special guest star," Levin said. "I think in Baltimore whoever complained didn't really pay attention. The spots are not misleading."
Levin said he hasn't received a single complaint about the show, only raves. "The reviews have been stellar, hon, stellar," he said. "It's been fantastic. I've been getting a lot of e-mails from his fans telling me how much they loved the show."
Bibeau, however, said she went home disappointed, angry and embarrassed by what she'd hoped would be a nice parting gift for her friends.
"I'm disabled and I don't get out that much," the Sykesville woman said. "I don't get dressed up that often and to get all dressed up and go out on the town, this is very special. For the four tickets it cost us $220 and I was expecting $220 worth of entertainment."
Finksburg resident Linda Cheney, who took in the show with her husband and friends, expected a more theatrical performance and was also annoyed that Bolton didn't appear until the end of the first act.
"We kept saying, 'Where's Michael?' We thought maybe he was sick."
Cheney said Bolton's performance was "wonderful," albeit too brief. "I don't get out that often to the theater and when you pay that kind of money you expect to see Mr. Bolton," she said. "You expect to see the man."
Miller has a different perspective. "It's funny," she said. "You go see movies and when somebody's starring in a movie and you only see them three times, are you mad?"
The show started in Fort Myers, Fla.; it will play Cleveland until the weekend, and wraps up in Boston July 16. The marketing director for Troika Entertainment, which produced the show, said that the only complaints so far have come from Baltimore.
"Every market is different, and maybe Michael has a larger fan base in Baltimore than anywhere else that decided to come to the theater," Jennifer Howey said. "Michael appeals to the pop audience and Andrew Lloyd Webber appeals across the board. In marrying the two, I doubt you could ever please everybody."