“Let’s Dance” Grant Park Music Festival Review – The Orchestra Shows Its Chops for Pops


Watching the straight torso tango dancers with the female lead’s sculpted hairstyle you couldn’t help but ask yourself—“Are they real?” 


THAT was dancing, and one could only hope that the masses of picnickers who covered the lawn got a good gander here or there, for there was much to see..


and hear…



Several of the more beautiful pieces of the evening in fact were strictly music sans dance performance--- Bernstein’s “Mambo” from West Side Story, Offenbach’s “Can Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld, Saint-Saëns’ “Dance Bacchanale” from Samson and Delilah, “Russian Sailors’ Dance” from the Red Poppy by Glière, and Bizet’s “Dance Bohême” from Carmen.  




The latter had to compete with the biweekly fireworks at Navy Pier, which congenial guest conductor Jeff Tyzik quipped was truly a first.  I probably wasn’t the only long-time Grant Park Music Festival goer that thought at least it wasn’t as bad as the Air Show planes scooping down on the audience for giggles some years ago. 


And then there were the dancers—Patricio Touceda and Eva Lucero--whose Tango moves do have the authenticity of their Argentinian origins, performing “”Kiss of Fire” by Villoldo, and Por una Cabeza by Gardel.  Two other duets (Arjay Centeno and Rachael McEnaney and the very athletic and graceful pair of Stephen Sayer and Chandrae Rettig) also did several costume changes to keep up with the wide ranging program that also included:  a waltz set to J. Strauss, Jr’s “On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314; “Charleston/Shimmy” to music by Johnson/Williams, , “Sway” by Ruiz,  “Fever” by Cooley.


The New York couple, Stephen Sayer and Chandrae Rettig who performed the swing and Charleston numbers  were athletic wonders flying about the stage to an arrangement by the conductor called “Swing Dance Medley”.


Todd East delighted the audience with vocals for a 1950s Dance Medley, also arranged by Tyzik and provided vocal accompaniment also for “Sway”. 


His fellow vocalist Helen Welch wore a stunning red dress and had the vocals to more than match.  Both vocalists sang the finale “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” by Denicola & Markowitz as arranged by the conductor. 





One special treat for regulars to the Grant Park Orchestra was seeing Chicago’s tap dance legend Ted Louis Levy lead the orchestra in a tap number.  They did it, and Levy brought Sammy Davis Jr. style to the entirety of the repertoire he brought to the stage including a performance of “Smile Darn Ya”,  and “The Drummers Medley”. .



Tyzik brought great charm and stage presence to the performance.  Reportedly he is in his 20th season as Principal Pops Conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, among several other symphonic orchestras in the US and Canada.  His collaborations have ranged from the likes of Art Garfunkel to Marilyn Horne to Lou Rawls.


Due to the concomitant scheduling of the Taste of Chicago this program started an hour and a half later than the usual Wednesday evening performance.  It may not have been the cup of tea of pure classical enthusiasts who crave more Russian composers and newer classical works.  If the pop program in conjunction with the Taste made Chicago’s spectacular Pritzker Pavillion more accessible to those who have not experienced it before it was a very welcomed detour from the usual concert programming. 




Grant Park Music Festival, the only free summer-long classical music concert series in the US, ranks as one of Chicago’s great cultural treasures.  It’s free to attend and by the sounds of it the picnickers on the grass have the most fun of all.


For a complete schedule of remaining concerts this summer see www.grantparkmusicfestival.com


Tango photos:  Mark Kitaota

Tyzik photo:  Tyler Boye

Photos in Pritzker Pavillion:  Norman Timonera




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