BWW Interview: Keith Lockhart Discusses Mandy Patinkin, Sutton Foster and More
When a writer is conducting a telephone interview, he or she is never quite sure where the person is on the other end of the call. Most of the time the interviewee is at home, in a dressing room or in their publicist's office. However, there have been times where the person being interviewed was in transit, in a crowded restaurant, walking his pit bull in Central Park or the the men's room of a prestigious New York hotel.
On a recent April afternoon, Maestro Keith Lockhart called from the driveway of his home in the outskirts of Boston while awaiting the arrival of a tow tuck. It seems that his car wasn't starting despite a battery that was in perfectly fine condition. Regardless of the adverse circumstances, the Boston Pops' genial conductor was upbeat and eager to talk about the orchestra's 2016 program.
The season will open on May 6th with a gala concert featuring Seth MacFarlane. The Oscar and Grammy nominated producer, actor and director of "Family Guy" is also a singer who will join the Pops for a concert of music gleaned from the 40's and 50's. The evening is already sold out but tickets are still available for MacFarlane's appearance with the Pops at the Tanglewood Music Festival on July 10th. "We've been trying to get Seth to join us for some time but this is the first time our schedules worked out, " Lockhart says.
Following what promises to be a spectacular opening with MacFarlan, the Pops will host two evenings called "Dancing With a Twist." This is a version of "Ballroom With a Twist" which has been playing to sell-out crowds around the country for some time and features professional dancers from "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance". In other versions, the dancers performed to a pre-recorded soundtrack, but at Symphony Hall there will be a live orchestra on stage with them. At the time of this conversation, the pros appearing in this event are Dmitry Chaplin and Anna Trebunskaya but they may very well be joined by others. As "Ballroom With a Twist" always features some enthusiastic audience participation, the question arises as to whether the dashing Maestro will be demonstrating his skills as a dancer with a passo doble or an Argentine tango on May 7th or 8th? Lockhart remained non-committal, but adds, "It should be a wonderful show and it's not the sort of thing we do here at Symphony Hall."
One of the most significant names in the annals of theater music is that of George Gershwin and his music will be showcased in special programs with the Pops on May 18th and 19th. Vocalists Nicole Cabell and Nmon Ford will perform such classics as "Embraceable You" and "Summertime," while pianist Charlie Albright will tickle the ivories with Gershwin's iconic "Rhapsody in Blue". The Gershwin Celebrations will be performed under the baton of David Charles Abell.
Many theatergoers have developed a fondness for puppets after seeing the still-running Avenue Q and the Pops will be presenting several programs titled "Puppets Take The Pops". Lockhart brims over with enthusiasm as he describes these shows. "We're really excited about these guys. The University of Connecticut has one of the premiere puppetry programs in the country. Their graduates are people who work for Julie Taymor and Avenue Q. The Pops discovered them because we do a concert at UConn every year and we worked with them down there. We decided we really had to bring them up to Boston and it'll be a good family show. In fact, we're doing it for a family matinee, too. These shows will include a production of 'Peter and the Wolf' as well as specially commissioned pieces that are short vignettes--each with a different style of puppetry. Each vignette will be set to a different work by Leroy Anderson, who has composed numerous pieces for the Boston Pops."
Switching gears just a little, Lockhart goes on to discuss Sutton Foster. "She'll be making her long-awaited debut with the Boston Pops this season. You may know that she was scheduled to do so last year but had to withdraw because of a bad bout with laryngitis. She'll be joining us on May 26th and 27th and we're looking forward to her very much.
Of course Mandy Patinkin--who I haven't been in touch with since my inaugural concert with the Pops 21 years ago-- will be performing with us again. Nowadays Mandy is associated with 'Homeland' on television and he does lots of TV work, so some po=eople have forgotten that he was one of the great stars of the original Evita and Sunday in the Prk With George. What most people don't know is that I conducted Mandy's Dress Casual tour before I came to the Boston Pops. This will be the first time we'll have worked together in over two decades."
The maestro continues: "I guess the concert I'm proudest of in terms of content is one that we're creating homegrown. It's going to feature Marin Mazzie and her husband Jason Danieley, along with Laura Osnes and a young bass baritone named Justin Hopkins--who is just fantastic! This concert is based on the premise that so much great stuff happened on Broadway from the end of World War II to the 1950's. It was an era that was basically bookended by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It began with Oklahoma! in 1943 and ended with Hammerstein's death in 1960. So what I basically did was take a chronological look at the greatest musicals of that period. It's just amazing how much was done in that period of time. Scores were written by Lerner and Loewe, Frank Loesser and Kurt Weill along with others. We'll be doing songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon as well as music from Lost in the Stars toBrigadoon--which is one of my favorite scores. I'm very excited about these concerts which we are calling 'The Golden Age of Broadway'."
The Pops will also be bring back something from last season that turned out to be great fun for all involved. "The idea for 'Pops on Demand' was mine. I wanted to get audiences e more engaged in the hall. These days are all about surveys as well as live polling. So I asked our tech staff if we could actually pick a program based on what the audience wants to hear. The tech crew looked at me and said, 'Sadly, we CAN do that!' As a result, in the second half of the program, we give the audience categories and give them tree choices in each category; asking them to vote on them. The voting is displayed on a screen above the orchestra in real time. Then we play those particular pieces. Only an orchestra with a music library like the Boston Pops could do this because we have about 40 pieces on the stand for the second part of the show. When you come to these concerts, please bring your Smart-phones and we'll actually ask you to use them instead of shutting them off!"
With or without their electronic devices, music lovers are encouraged to visit Symphony Hall this season. There's a varied season being offered and now that the starter in his car has been replaced, Keith Lockhart will be on the podium to conduct with his usual charm and acclaimed skills.
To order tickets for the Boston Pops, go to: bso.org.