By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
"Happy birthday to all Buckeyes," announced Erich Kunzel, to open the Cincinnati Pops' tribute to Ohio's 200th in Music Hall Friday.
The birthday party included visits from two famous Ohio women: Mrs. Hope Taft, First Lady of Ohio, who narrated the premiere of a new work to hail the Bicentennial, and Maureen McGovern, Broadway diva and Youngstown native, who wowed with her own tribute to Richard Rodgers.
Although McGovern has appeared - and recorded - with the Pops many times during her three-decade career, she just seems to get better each time. Her encore was her Academy Award-winning hit, "The Morning After," but she dazzled from the first moment she walked onstage in a black cat suit and fringed shawl. Even though she just turned 54 - "Global warming is just one collective hot flash," she quipped - one gets the feeling she has miles to go.
Her tribute traveled through the great songbooks of Rodgers and Hart, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. She effortlessly projected all the wit and genius of the lyrics in numbers such as a "Lovesick Medley" and "Falling in Love with Love."
Her voice was versatile, whether belting it out with arms outstretched, or whispering a phrase to "It Never Entered My Mind." Backed by her own polished combo and the Pops, she jazzed up her delivery - even in "Climb Every Mountain." Her ability to scat brought back memories of Ella Fitzgerald, and she could climb to the high notes like a clarinet's wail.
When McGovern put down her mike and sang "My Funny Valentine" a cappella, her generous voice soared through the hall with dead-on intonation, and the audience held its collective breath. In between songs like "Lover" and "My Favorite Things," McGovern carried on a running, funny commentary, singing excerpts from her favorite musicals in a high-speed "fricassee," and kicking up her high heels as she strolled the stage.
The first half featured the premiere of Ohio Bicentennial Celebration, an inspiring, multi-media Ohio history lesson by Joseph D. Price, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Pops arranger since 1994.
Price wrote a lush, Hollywood score, including arrangements of familiar folk songs, to back the narrative, by Joy Fowler, faculty member at School for Creative and Performing Arts. It traveled from Ohio's beginnings to the movers and shakers of today, and was enhanced by projected slides of historic illustrations and stunning photos taken by Thomas R. Schiff.
Mrs. Taft, looking regal in a white gown, navigated the large amount of text with a small, clear voice and all the grace of a seasoned political wife.
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McGovern, Pops give rousing tribute
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