Saturday, April 23, 2011

Broadway's Leading Men Reprise

Jack's back!  I expect it's not unplanned that Maestro Everly avoids Canada during the winter months.  Technically Indianapolis (where he spends December conducting Yuletide Celebration) and Baltimore (which had a February Pops concert) aren't exactly "southern" states, and this past year Indianapolis had snow before Toronto, but I know if I had the chance to visit regions south of the Mason-Dixon line (he's also Principal Pops Conductor of the Naples Philharmonic in Florida), I'd pick January-February to do that over May-June.

Ben Crawford
But it's April, the beginning of spring, and hence a return of Jack to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, accompanied by the cast of Broadway's Leading Men.  I was quite excited when the NAC website posted the official program and it had Ben Crawford listed rather than the artist previously announced.  With that I decided to take in the April 9 performance.

Brynn O'Malley
(Broadway World)
Additionally, I figured Brynn O'Malley wouldn't be sick twice, so "Love Duets" would be included.  And really the music is so great, it's totally worth seeing twice! (for the first time review go here).

Heath Calvert
Indeed "Love Duets" was included and featured 7 different pieces.  Not quite the "875 romantic songs" promised in the tongue in cheek intro, but exquisitely performed by cast.  Heath Calvert proved here he's the epitome of the romantic leading man, and his voice melded so well in the duets with Brynn.  These included "People Will Say We're in Love" from Oklahoma! and "All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera.  Even Jacob Clemente (taking a week off from Billy Elliot on Broadway to do the Ottawa series of concerts) got in on the action with a solo performance of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from Gigi.  There's something about giving a song to a performer for the soul purpose of taking it out of context that adds humor and somehow works with the audience.

Jacob Clemente
In case you didn't read the previous post, Jacob is 13, and the song was originally sung by Maurice Chevalier at the age of 70.  This tactic was used earlier, with equal effect, when Jacob sang "Summer Nights" from Grease in the "Leading Men Medley".

Highlights of these concerts are what I've dubbed "Everly Interludes".  These would be the times when Jack faces the audience to introduce the pieces, or even to promote the upcoming season.  The promotion always occurs this time of year, and he has this half serious/half sarcastic way of reminding everyone that "we love subscriptions.  Individual tickets are nice, but we love subscriptions".  His description of next season (prefaced by a smiling "It's going to be great!  Of course you haven't heard me say that before?") included the finale which is "featuring the music of ABBA".  This triggered an instant "Oooooo" from the audience.  And just because it was so good, he said it again, and on cue was rewarded with an even stronger "Oooooo".  His response? "You're so easy" :)

I don't know if there was a different audience vibe, or the evening was going better personally, but Jack was much more talkative than in Naples.  Following "Seventy-Six Trombones" he announced it was National Trombone Week (turns out it actually was when I Googled it afterwards) and the trombone section waved their slides in acknowledgement of audience applause.  Jack proceeded in a bit of a deadpan voice and, glancing at the viola section, said that "next week is International Viola Week, so we'll all be celebrating that".  In keeping with violas being the brunt of most orchestral jokes (could someone tell me why?) there was little audience reaction and we went from being "so easy" to a "tough room".

Ted Keegan
The other great part of "Everly Interludes" is the music history that just pours out.  I always learn something interesting.  For example I didn't know that Oliver! was included in David Merrick's many Broadway production credits.  Or that the "West Side Story Overture" (which was now part of the real program, not a last minute substitute as in Naples) was actually Leonard Bernstein's original but in out of town pre-Broadway tryouts Jerome Robbins (director and choreographer and one of the original idea men for an updated Romeo and Juliet story) decided that the show shouldn't open with a traditional overture, and it was dropped.  Bernstein's friend Maurice Peress gave it a symphonic treatment.
Personally I love the arrangement.  It leaves out the over done "Maria" and since that song is already included in this program as a solo for Ted Keegan, it was nice to not have it revisited in the "Overture".

Searching for songs afterwards led me to some new places this time.  There were a few pieces I didn't know from the medleys and on this hearing scribbled down enough of the words that internet searches proved helpful.  This highlights another aspect of Jack Everly concerts that are intriguing.  The music is not a rehash of what everyone knows.  The songs I didn't recognize turned out to be "Anthem" from Chess, "Muddy Water" from Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "Wait Till You See Her" from By Jupiter, and "My Heart is so Full of You" from The Most Happy Fella.  A rather eclectic group.  Chess is from the same composers as Mamma Mia! (ie: former ABBA members) with lyrics by Tim Rice and was created in the early 1980's.  The song is actually about the character's homeland of Russia, yet out of context with no background knowledge I thought it was about a girl, and that context fits too.   Big River, also from the 1980's, has a much lighter storyline and from youtube searches seems to have quite a history in amateur productions.  Jumping back in time, By Jupiter was the last full length work by Rodgers and Hart, making its Broadway debut in 1942 starring Ray Bolger (best known these days as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz).  Between these two time frames came Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella, which has enjoyed several revivals since the 1956 beginnings.  I've since listened, several times, to the 2008 in concert recording of Chess, featuring Idina Menzel and Josh Groban, and am now interested in seeing the production when the London cast comes to Toronto for the 2011-12 Mirvish season.  So it's all connected.

I couldn't completely leave the NAC orchestra out of a review, and they continued to be amazing throughout the evening.
Sitting where I was limited my view of those in the back, and in this regard they tended to slip further to the back of my mind when another performer was involved, which typically doesn't happen when I can see more of them.  In their stand out orchestra only pieces however, it was an opportunity to really listen and pick out what instruments were featured, like the horn solo in West Side Story.  Whoever was sitting on the end seat in the 2nd row of violas (from checking bios with pictures on the NAC website, I think it was David Thies-Thompson) was quite enjoyable to watch.  He seemed to be having a good time along with concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki who was almost out of his chair on several occasions.  The beginning of the "Les Miserables Medley" had so much going on it sounded like the orchestra wasn't together at times.  No one (that I could see anyway) had a worried expression flash across their face, so I'll put it down to delay of sound reaching me, and my lack of knowledge :).  Thanks to all the gracious performers for another wonderful evening at the NAC!

No comments:

Post a Comment