By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Michael Feinstein’s season-ending concert with the Pasadena Pops Saturday night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum was appropriately titled “New York! New York!” Like some Broadway shows I have attended, it began tentatively, clicked in during the middle (thanks to a soloist’s star number) and ended with a flourish in a splashy production number.
Along the way the show demonstrated Feinstein’s strong and weakest points. The show was an artfully created set of songs written over more than a half-century that paid homage to the Big Apple with Feinstein’s typically erudite, witty commentary tying it all together. Moreover, the orchestra got much more time in the spotlight than has become customary in recent concerts.
However the latter meant that Feinstein’s still-evolving skills as the Pops Principal Conductor were also in the spotlight or, in this case, the headlights (think deer). When Resident Conductor Larry Blank led the encore with Feinstein belting out “New York, New York,” at least this critic wished that Feinstein had allowed Blank’s assured hand to lead more of the orchestral numbers.
The orchestra was in top form throughout the evening, with the numbers requiring musicians to switch styles from number to number. Notable soloists included Greg Huckins, saxophone, Chris Eble, trumpet, Alex Iles, trombone, Bryan Pezzone, piano and Albie Berk, drumset.
As is always the case Feinstein re-discovered a number of pieces that have lain fallow in places ranging from attics and garages to the Library of Congress. One of those was What More Do I Need? which was written by Stephen Sondheim in 1955 for his early musical Saturday Night but wasn’t actually sung until 1983. Liz Callaway sang it Saturday night (pun intended) lavishly and its gritty lyrics nicely contrasted with Cole Porter’s I Happen to Like New York from the 1930s musical The New Yorker.
Aaron Tveit followed stylishly with Conrad Sallinger’s arrangement of Autumn in New York. He then belted out Broadway Baby in the best “the show must go on” tradition because EMTs were taking away in an ambulance an audience member who had collapsed during the evening.
In the second half of the program, Patti Austin stole the spotlight with a melancholy, wistful performance of a Shirley Horn signature number Here’s to Life. She then joined with Feinstein and the “band” for a powerful medley of Duke Ellington songs.
All of that led to the final production number with soloists, the Donald Brinegar Chorus and dancers joining into the title number of 42nd Street (one of 82 film scores that Warren wrote). That and Feinstein’s joyous rendition of New York, New York as an encore made for a memorable conclusion to the season.
• Acting as a bridge between seasons, the Pasadena Symphony and Pops presents its annual free concert on the steps of the Pasadena City Hall on Oct. 4. Blank will lead the ensemble, which will be joined by vocalists Valerie Perri, Christina Saffran, and David Burnham. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
• The Pasadena Symphony’s 87th season opens November 1 at Ambassador Auditorium as Music Director David Lockington leads a program of music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, with Lockington’s own Ceremonial Fantasy Fanfare opening his first full season as the orchestra’s musical leader. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.