Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tales from the Symphonic Strip

What happens in Vegas, may stay in Vegas, but what happens at the symphony gets blogged about!  This past March 31 and April 1 were phenomenal, days I won't soon forget.  Why you ask?  I enjoyed "Pops Goes Vegas" with the TSO, not once, but three times.  Yes, it really is that good a show!

The stage was set with a Vegas theme, including a sign and plant which proved to be interactive.

Mr. Everly proved to be his usual, engaging self, interacting with the audience right away as he silently called for the stage hand to remove the previously mentioned plant.  At a groan from the audience, he turned and said "oh no, nothing tacky in these hallowed halls", before giving a jumping upbeat to the orchestra and displaying the back of his characteristic white jacket, however it was no longer plain white.  Instead "VEGAS" appeared in red lights and what looked like fiber optic stars sparkled around it and down the sleeves.  Great start to the glitz and glamour of the evening.
The jacket lasted through the Overture and "Las Vegas" (which it's taken me all week to discover is from an unproduced musical by Jerry Herman of Hello Dolly fame called Miss Spectacular).  The non-powered white jacket was delivered by one of the show girls (because it wouldn't be Vegas without them) and Mr. Everly changed without skipping a beat and started into a brief history of Las Vegas.  Apparently it started as a railway town which required entertainment for the workers and so there was "legalized gambling, legalized alcohol, and [glances at showgirls]...well lets just say lots of things were legalized." ;)

The vocalists were all top quality.  Allison Briner even took a break from her current Broadway role in Mamma Mia! to do the show.  Scott Beck was very easy to listen to and on the eyes, while Joe Cassidy from a distance resembled Rodney McKay from Stargate.  But he could sing and channeled Frank Sinatra for a wonderful arrangement (courtesy of Fred Barton) of "I Gotta Be Me/My Way".  The two songs intertwined amazingly well.

The highlight performer though had to be Martin Preston as Liberace (haha, Mr. Everly introduced like that too, with the "famous for"'s and drum rolls).  He dazzled quite literally.  The first costume even contained Swarovski crystals and apparently weighed 35 lbs.  The mannerisms and even some of his opening talk were right from Liberace himself.  Then there was the piano!  From Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1, I'll Be Seeing You, Beer Barrel Polka, to audience requests (even mine of Rhapsody in Blue and then I Got Rhythm in the evening because no one else was suggesting anything), Liberace played it all.  He even debuted a piece that hadn't been played by anyone else with the Toronto Symphony, the classic "Chopsticks".  But it turned into a pretty impressive theme and variations version.

The orchestra was by no means overlooked.  For that big band sound there were additional musicians particularly for the trumpets, trombones, and saxophones.  They shone in an original orchestration (also by Barton who had worked with Coleman) of "Big Spender" from the Cy Coleman musical, Sweet Charity, "New York, New York", and throughout the whole evening.  It was a real pleasure to see several musicians appear to really be enjoying themselves (the principal violin and cello specifically).  The evening had all the segments of Vegas from a tribute to the top stars (such as Sinatra, etc) to the lounge acts designed to keep people in the casinos at all times.  To represent the declining talent lounge aspect Mr. Everly made a deadpan introduction "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the final 3am show at the Last Call Lounge.  Now here they are...Joe and Ally" which started a skit/song/dance act telling the story of the turbulent relationship between the married couple Joe and Ally.  My guess is this is a take off of Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme.  Allison's impersonations of Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Bernadette Peters, Charo, Cher, and Ethel Merman were played for laughs and succeeded.  At each performance, Ethel especially, got a big reaction from the audience and even bow wavings and stomps from the orchestra!  A few times Mr. Everly even had to rein in a chuckle before continuing with the next introduction.  All of that makes the night feel personal, like you're not just watching a detached group of people, but that they're enjoying the moment as well.

I could go on with way more details of the show, but I've probably raved enough.  This was a friend of mine's first introduction to the symphony and she's interested in going to more Pops shows next season.  So Maestro, as you mentioned in your closing remarks, I agree there's nothing like live music and I'm trying to do my part in expanding the audience.  Hope to see more people at the symphony!