A Tribute to Gershwin/Sondheim Review- The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra with Bernadette Peters

Bernadette Peters joined the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and Music Director/Conductor Keith Lockhart at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway on March 31, 2017, for a tribute concert to American composer and pianist George Gershwin and a medley of Broadway and classic hit songs.

Bernadette Peters with microphone; photo by Andrew Eccles

 

 The first half of the concert was devoted to Gershwin, opening with the overture to “Nice Work if You Can Get It”, by both George and Ira Gershwin, 1937, written for the film “A Damsel in Distress”, as arranged and orchestrated by Bill Elliott, who was nominated for both Tony and Grammy awards for “Nice Work” on Broadway. It’s a catchy, lyrical piece, a fine introduction to the 2 longer and iconic works.

This was followed by the world premiere of Paul Whiteman’s version of “An American in Paris”, 1928, reconstructed by Pat Hollenbeck and Bill Elliott; Elliott won a Tony Award in 2015 for best orchestration of that Broadway show. Gershwin subtitled this work “A Tone Poem for Orchestra”; it’s filled with spirit and great jazz/blues harmonies. The famous "strolling" melody, soon overtaken by taxi horns, gives way to unusual pairings and rapid changes in mood and tempo. It was performed with style and sass.

Keith Lockhart, conductor, and The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra; photo by Winslow Townson

 

The Gershwin portion of the concert concluded with the 1926 Ferde Grofe version of “Rhapsody in Blue” featuring solo pianist Michael Chertock. This piece, which “established Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer,” has long been known as one of the most popular American concert works. Originally composed for solo piano and jazz band, as performed by the Pops Esplanade Orchestra with Chertock, it was rendered precise, lively, jazzy/classical and colorful. Lockhart described how at the premiere, performed by Paul Whiteman’s band, with Gershwin at the piano, Sergei Rachmaninoff and John Phillip Sousa were present, and the work garnered tumultuous applause.  Orchestral soloist Chertock, a favored collaborator with the Pops and Lockhart, is a skillful articulator of the sprightly yet complicated rhythms in the work.

Condutor Keith Lockhart; photo by Winslow Townson

The second half of the concert had Peters reprising/vocalizing Stephen Sondheim hits, including “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing My Mind” from “Follies”, 1971;“Send in the Clowns”, from “A Little Night Music”, 1973; “Being Alive”, from “Company”, 1970; and “No One is Alone” from “Into the Woods”, 1988. She also sang “It Might as Well Be Spring”, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1945, from the film “State Fair”; “There is Nothing Like a Dame”, another tune by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1949, from the musical “South Pacific”; “Fever”, 1956 by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport; and closed with an encore of her own composing, “Kramer’s Song”, 2008, devoted to her dog. The arrangements were subtle, the phrasing all her own.

The Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart, and Bernadette Peters; photo by Winslow Townson

 

Peters, a longtime fixture on Broadway, charmed the audience with her effervescence and attitude, although in certain songs, notably “Losing My Mind”, and “Being Alive, her voice seemed overwhelmed by the orchestra, rather than accompanied by or accompanying it. The delivery of “Fever”, which found Peters, just shy of 70, lying prone on the stage and crooning was a stretch. However, there can be no question she gave the songs- many of them ones she had delivered triumphantly on Broadway- all she had, and what great songs they were!

 Stephen Joshua Sondheim, justifiably described as “Now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater”, was himself mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II.  His musicals and the songs within them are many-layered, complex, and require skillful technical vocalizing; Peters was more than up to the challenge. In between songs, and in encore, she strutted the stage and the house itself confidently, quipping, complimenting her colleagues and interacting with the audience. Keith Lockhart, with the Boston Pops for 22 years, is an affable, vital, energetic and confident composer with a clear technique and a sure hand.

 

Bernadette Peters; photo by Andrew Eccles

For information and tickets to all the great shows go to  the Auditotium Theatre of Roosevelt University website

 

 

 

 

 

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