(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Marvin Hamlisch and Pasadena Pops at the Rose Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Pasadena Pops; Marvin
Hamlisch, conductor

“Marvin Does Broadway”

Saturday, August 6, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl

Next concert: August 27, 2011 “Marvin Does Movies”

Info: www.pasadena-symphony.org

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There may have been more important ways to spend a Saturday
night but few, if any, could have been more pleasurable than spending last night
with Marvin Hamlisch, the Pasadena Pops and an array of soloists under balmy
skies and a bright half-moon at The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl.

 

A good-sized crowd turned out (particularly impressive
considering there was competition from the California Philharmonic’s Rodgers
and Hammerstein program at the Arboretum and from the staged production of Hairspray at Hollywood Bowl) to hear
Hamlisch and friends work their way through a couple of dozen selections from
Broadway, the place where Hamlisch quipped “tickets cost $150 and parking is
$900.”

 

That sort of witty, yet gentle repartee is part of what
makes a Hamlisch concert go down so easily. His banter ranged from the
downgrading of the nation’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ to joking with KABC
weatherman Dallas Raines about the region’s relentlessly constantly good weather.
Mid-show he dashed off a spunky set of piano variations on Happy Birthday in the styles of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven — shades
of Victor Borge!

 

More than anything, however, Hamlisch succeeds by connecting
with all ages in the audience in part because his comments on the music are
intelligent even when they’re brief. For example, he and the orchestra opened
with two Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures, with Hamlisch explaining that the Oklahoma overture was the traditional, “Hey,
come on in” collection of song that would appear in the show, while the Carousel Waltz was radically different
because the music never reappears and the curtain is open at the beginning, not
closed.

 

(I do, however, take issue with Hamlish’s contention that Porgy and Bess is a musical. I realize
that director Diane Paulus is working on a new production of what she calls The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which is
supposed to recast the work as a musical, but, in the words of Ira Gershwin, “It
Ain’t Necessarily So” — i.e., it’s an opera).

 

One of things that make Hamlisch’s programs succeed is that
they are really a descriptive phrase of the former Pops music director, Rachael
Worby, programming for the iPod mentality). About the only thing he didn’t do
was to identify all the shows from whence the music came (although there was a
list of the shows in the program).

 

In addition to his commentary, Hamlisch conducted decently,
if not with great flair (he does seem to bury his head in the score quite a
bit), played the piano (sometimes doing both at the same time), and even sang a
duet with Cady Huffman for one his own tunes, They’re Playing Our Song, which Huffman informed people was the
show with which she made her professional debut at the La Mirada Theater. Apart
from a few rough patches, the Pops orchestra playing was typically first-rate.

 

Individually and as ensembles the three soloists provided
many of the evening’s high points (there was actually a fourth soloist at the
conclusion of the first act: Steven Brinberg, who did a neat takeoff on
Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond — my original review didn’t identify him by name).

 

As a trio, Huffman, Anne Runolfsson and Gary Mauer offered a
poignant rendition of Send in the Clowns,
while Runolfsson and Mauer played Anything
You Can Do I Can Do Better
with typical over-the-top foolishness (although she
did display the requisite amount of impressive power).

 

Huffman vamped a slinky Ulla from The Producers while Mauer offered a winsome rendition of Begin the Beguine and later had the
evening’s funniest moment with another witty Cole Porter song, The Tale of the Oyster.

 

To conclude the evening, Mauer joined with Runolfsson,
Hamlisch and the orchestra to finish the evening on the highest and most
powerful of notes as they reprised their roles in The Phantom of the Opera, a performance that should have impressed
even the most ardent “Phantom” haters and did bring forth a thunderous standing
ovation from the others.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although the Pops uses video screens on both sides of the
stages, the camera work remains mediocre and the lighting continues to have
problem, rendering people’s faces much redder than they really are (Huffman and
Runolfsson looked like they had Rosacea).

Hamlisch listens to his audience. After hearing reports
that some people (not everyone, I hasten to add) were upset that the first
concert didn’t begin with The Star
Spangled Banner,
Hamlisch opened with the National Anthem last night, then
quipped that the balance of the program would be SSBs from countries around the world.

One thing I’m going to miss when the Pops moves to the
Arboretum is the convenient parking adjacent to the Rose Bowl venue and the
fast getaways that patrons have.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.