A Richard Rodgers Celebration
This was first experience at the Pops, but I was immediately comfortable amidst the laidback, jubilant atmosphere in historic Symphony Hall. As Pops aficionados already know, the crew removes the orchestra level's fixed seating and replaces it with cabaret-style tables and chairs during the Boston Symphony Orchestra's off-season. A friendly, no-pressure wait staff serves food and beverages to patrons in between songs. It's possible to spend anywhere from a few dollars on a soft drink to several hundred on the finest champagne.
The lush Esplanade orchestra split Rodgers' impressive catalog into two sets highlighting the composer's distinct periods working with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Lockhart's well-executed program maintained a steady, driving pace. The maestro wasted no time transitioning into subsequent songs after allowing a few moments of audience appreciation for the musicians. Pamela Smith's wonderful lighting design set the mood for each number, punctuated by Rodgers' artistic autograph splashed on the side walls of the stage.
Victoria Clark was amazing, as expected. A seasoned New York actor, Clark's Broadway credits include celebrated productions of Sunday in the Park with George, Urinetown and A Grand Night for Singing. She is a pure delight on stage and it's no surprise that she won the Tony Award while starring in The Light in the Piazza, composed by Rodgers' grandson, Adam Guettel.
Poised and radiant, Clark entertained us throughout the evening, including the comedic "To Keep My Love Alive" from A Connecticut Yankee (a hearty "Bravo!" to Justin Seward and his props crew for the slew of hilarious implements of death) to the beautiful "Spring is Here" from I Married an Angel. Her voice is well suited to the legit-leaning days of musical theater when soaring vibrato was integral to the genre.
Other singers offered a nice complement to Clark and rounded out the set list with more favorite Rodgers tunes. In one of the finest numbers of the evening, Matthew Anderson yearningly sang "I Have Dreamed" from The King and I in a powerful arrangement by Don Sebesky. Tenor Anderson is a Tanglewood Vocal Fellow this season and appeared alongside colleagues Allison Angelo, Sarah Kelsey and Alex Lawrence. It's clear why the symphony selected them for such a prestigious program.
While I do enjoy old-time Rodgers songs, I did wince whenever the cheese meter began spinning out of control, especially during "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music. Lockhart's initially funny interactions with the singers began to feel a little too Johnny-One-Note after the first few gags. He does have a perfect personality to lead the Pops and I don't mean to diminish that. However, fewer bits might be more effective.
Though the Boston Pops indoor season is complete, make sure to check out their free Independence Day concert on July 4 at 8:30 p.m. on the Esplanade. Or, enjoy my personal favorite, the dress rehearsal on July 3 at 7 p.m., offering all of the glory except two items: the fireworks and a monstrous crowd. For more information, visit www.bostonpops.org.
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