Entertainment » Theatre

Thee Phantom and the Illharmonic Orchestra

by Rachel  Breitman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jan 8, 2018
Thee Phantom and the Illharmonic Orchestra

Mixing the formality of a philharmonic orchestra with the upbeat rhythm and tempo of an R&B show, Thee Phantom and the Illharmonic orchestra brought in the New Year at the Kennedy Center. As part of the organization's ongoing hip-hop initiative, Thee Phantom (Jeffrey McNeill) helped bend and meld genres with a remix of classical music and elements of old school rap and modern lyrics.

Describing himself as "part B-Boy, part Beethoven," McNeill and his wife "The Phoenix," combined Beethoven and Vivaldi with backbeats from Lauryn Hill, Nas, Kanye West, and even the Eurythmics. Their remixes of famous tunes like "Killing Me Softly" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," lifted up the room, mixing the swagger of the 1980s and 90s with elegant lyrics and swift rhymes referring to modern political times.

The audience embodied the mix of classical, R&B, and hip-hop, dressed in outfits ranging from black velvet tuxedos to track pants, ball gowns, and leather pants.

McNeill and his wife had a sizzling onstage chemistry, and he beamed when he calls her his "partner in music and in life." Dressed in a studded tuxedo and red heels, "Thee Phoenix" almost steals the show from "Thee Phantom" by adding sexiness and soul to his quick rhymes.

Complementing the skilled stylings of the vocalists were full orchestra complete with more than 25 classically trained performers on strings, horns, woodwinds and a pianist. But keeping it fresh the band also mixes in few young break dancers for an extra twist.

A DJ provided the backbeat and the orchestra played over the drum track that he provides. No stranger to either classical music or hip-hop, McNeill became skilled at combining the two into a signature remix.

He mixed The Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" with Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony," which he composed at the young age of 12. The North Philadelphia-raised singer has a background in flute and piano, which helped him develop his musical stylings, along with his experience singing in the church choir.

With upcoming shows in his hometown of Philadelphia and Austin, Texas later this winter, along with San Antonio and Cincinnati this spring, Thee Phoenix will clearly bring his East Coast stylings to new neighborhoods. Meanwhile, his hot beats warmed up a freezing New Year's Eve in Washington, D.C., as Thee Phoenix invited his audience to dream of a better and more inclusive world in 2018.

This season will continue with more genre-mixing musical creations when Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds joins the National Symphony orchestra January 19 and 20 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW. For tickets call 202) 467-4600 or go to Kennedy-center.org.


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