Saturday, March 31, 2012

Century of Broadway

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Pops Series continued with A Century of Broadway on March 20-21.  Featuring guest conductor Jeff Tyzik and two vocalists making their TSO debut, the concert delivered as promised.

The evening began back in the days of operetta, and the Jeannette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy movies around the 1920's and 1930's.  Guest vocalist Christiane Noll showed the start of her versatility in styles with "Come Boys" from Student Prince.  We were first introduced to Doug LaBrecque (a former Toronto Phantom, and another of the few to have played both the Phantom and Raoul) via "Stout-Hearted Men" from New Moon.  These are both operettas I've never heard of by Sigmund Romberg, but ones that paved the way for the musicals that were to follow.

And the first musical to start the definition of the next era was the 1927 Showboat, by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.  The version included in the program focused on the love songs "Make Believe", "You Are Love", and "Why Do I Love You" with the only shout out to the famous "Ol' Man River" being in the orchestra.  Really it requires a deep bass singer to do it justice, so likely for the best it was an instrumental.

Robert Russell Bennett
Orchestrator to the famous of the next group of broadway greats Rodgers/Hammerstein, Lerner/Loewe, Berlin, Gershwin etc., Robert Russell Bennett's skill was demonstrated in a very complete medley from My Fair Lady.  Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote a musical in 1946 called St. Louis Woman, which produced the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine".  I thought this was done by Lena Horne at some point, but it would appear (according to wiki) that while she was desired for a role in the musical, she didn't record the song.  Judy Garland did, so perhaps it's her version that comes to mind when I think of it.  The arrangement in the concert, by Wayne Barker, wasn't the slow, melancholy version I remembered, but an upbeat one with a copacabana type feel.

The highlight of the first half was selections from the golden age of musicals Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, and Funny Girl.  Adding a twist, they performed it Backwards Broadway style with Christiane singing "Luck Be a Lady", "If I Were a Rich Man", and "Some Enchanted Evening", obviously songs by male characters.  Doug countered with "Cock-eyed Optimist", "Some People", and "People" made famous by the likes of Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and Barbra Streisand.

Doug LaBrecque
The second half continued the journey through the decades picking up with the overture to the 1957 West Side Story, moving through Coleman/Field's 1966 Sweet Charity, to 1975 Kander/Ebb's Chicago.  Chicago opened the same year as A Chorus Line which swept the Tony awards, so it wasn't really popular until the revival years later and that popularity has continued with the 2002 movie version.  Doug performed "Mr. Cellophane" which had these sideways leans that had me wondering how'd he do that without falling over?

Christiane Noll
What would the recent musical world be without Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber?  Christiane was kind enough to explain what was going on in A Little Night Music at the time that "Send in the Clowns" is sung, providing an out of context song much more emotional impact.

After a quick shout out to the Jersey Boys where the orchestra got into the spirit of things with the bass players twirling their instruments, the concert concluded with Phantom of the Opera.

After the operetta opening, I was expecting Christiane to have a more Carlotta voice than Christine, but she managed such an innocence and vulnerability in Think of Me, it was incredible!  For the second time this season "Music of the Night" closed the evening.  Each Phantom brings something different to the song and while Doug nailed the top note, I felt it was over acted and preferred Hugh Panaro's rendition.  Still it was an enjoyable evening of great pops music that threw in new songs and twists on the old standards.

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