Monday, July 15, 2002

Pops puts on proper English accent

Concert reviews

By Nicole Hamilton,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati orchestras have been on an international kick lately. Last month, a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra series at Riverbend featured a night of Russian music, another featured the music of Italy.

        The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra continued the theme Saturday evening, for their “Pops Goes British” concert. Guest conductor Jack Everly led the orchestra and five guest vocalists in a wide range of music, from musical theater to rock 'n' roll. The only prerequisite: all composers must be British. Pops Goes British is a production of the Symphonic Pops Consortium. A traveling show, the cast and conductor have little to do with Cincinnati. This worked for them because the vocalists are all top-notch, international performers, possibly hand-picked by Mr. Everly (himself a very accomplished conductor).

        Sometimes, however, it did not. Parts of the show appeared over-rehearsed, like the performers could sing the songs in their sleep and probably have.

        The night opened with Mr. Everly's “Overture”, an arrangement of songs such as Monty Norman's “The James Bond Theme” and Jean-Joseph Mouret's “Le Rondeau,” better known as the theme to the PBS television series Masterpiece Theatre.

        Then it was on to arrangements of works by musical theater greats like Lionel Bart (“Consider Yourself”) and, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber as sung by the five guest vocalists — mezzo-soprano Judy McLane, baritone Brad Little, pianist/vocalist Steve Ross, alto Gwendolyn Jones and soprano Jennifer Shrader.

        All five were on stage for “Consider Yourself,” and although the arrangement did a nice job at showing the diversity among the singers' ranges, the sound was unbalanced. The orchestra was barely audible.

        Mr. Ross was hoarse but he still delivered — while playing piano — a powerful version of Anthony Newley's “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” capturing the dry, witty, humor of the English.

        Another standout was Judy McLane's rendition of Mr. Webber's “Buenos Aires/Don't Cry for Me Argentina.” Her strong but subtle phrasing was effective, and gave way to some of the best audience responses of the night.

        Mr. Little was in Cincinnati a few years ago in a road tour of The Phantom of the Opera when he played the Phantom. The night wouldn't have been complete without him singing Mr. Webber's “The Music of the Night,” from that musical.

        Mr. Little has natural stage presence and a fan club (the program notes welcomed the Steve Little Fan Club to Riverbend). His version of the classic was powerful and he moved from a whisper to a roar effortlessly. He got inside the lyrics and drew them out, and ended the song in the classic, show-stopping, move-the-arms-over-the head-as-you-hold-the-note-for-as-long-as-you-can finale.

        The audience gave him a standing ovation, and remained standing until Mr. Everly asked everyone to sit down for the real grand finale — Mr. Webber's “Memory.”

        Again, the five singers combined forces on stage for the last number and again, the sound was unbalanced. But the audience gave them a standing ovation, like a group of Aussies saying, “No worries.” Or perhaps that's another concert.


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