BWW Review: OPENING NIGHT AT POPS WITH BERNADETTE PETERS
Opening Night at Pops With Bernadette Peters
The Boston Pops Orchestra, Keith Lockhart Conducting
Guest Artists: Maggie Scott, Michael Chertock, Bernadette Peters
Wednesday, May 9, 2012; Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA
Box Office: 617-266-1200 or www.bostonpops.org
America’s orchestra bookended its opening night concert with projected images of iconic national sites by photo-historIan Joseph Sohm, set to George Gershwin’s “Love is Sweeping the Country,” and John Philip Sousa’s world famous patriotic march “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” In between, a starry line-up of guest performers Maggie Scott, Michael Chertock, and Bernadette Peters filled the venerable hall with the music of more great American artists, including Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.
“Visions of America” is the theme for the Boston Pops 127th season, celebrating the country’s greatest musical traditions. It seemed fitting to get things rolling with homegrown jazz vocalist and pianist Maggie Scott. Accompanied by James Gwin on drums and Mike Rivard on bass, the 83-year old Scott, a Berklee College of Music professor for over thirty years, proved that she can do as well as teach. Performing with the Pops for only the second time in sixty years (she was a piano soloist under Conductor Arthur Fiedler in 1950), she infused a Gershwin medley of “The Man I Love” – “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – “Summertime” with a sultry swing, followed by a love song medley “It Had to Be You” – “Taking a Chance on Love” – “Can’t Buy Me Love,” both arranged by Hollenbeck. Scott sings and plays with ease, providing dramatic accents without histrionics. She told the audience, “It’s really great to be back,” and was rewarded with a giant spray of flowers and a well-deserved standing ovation.
Continuing the Gershwin emphasis of the first half of the program, soloist and long-time friend of the Pops Michael Chertock took center stage at the grand piano for an exquisite interpretation of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Maestro Keith Lockhart and the orchestra performed beautifully in tandem with him, from the opening clarinet glissando all the way through to the climactic conclusion. From my vantage point in the first balcony, I was mesmerized by the movement of Chertock’s hands on the keyboard, often so rapid as to create a blur; technically and artistically, he made this great piece of American music his own.
One of the few who can legitimately wear the mantle of Broadway diva, Bernadette Peters took Symphony Hall by storm with an emotional set that ran the gamut from coquettish to comedic, straightforward to complex, delight to dementia. Although hampered to a degree by her voice cracking a number of times (requiring several water breaks), Peters is a consummate performer who did not disappoint, except for the moment she announced that the program was drawing to a close. She opened with “Let Me Entertain You” from Styne/Sondheim’s Gypsy in which she played Mama Rose and didn’t sing the song, but it was only the first of a handful of tunes that she opted to present in her inimitable style. With resonant accompaniment by Principal Cellist Martha Babcock and pianist Marvin Laird, Peters sang “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods like you’ve never heard it before, followed by something I’m sure you’ve never heard before – a woman’s take on “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific. She had fun with that one, making a foray into the audience to show off her range in the phrase with the lower register.
The petite songstress ramped up the cheesecake quotient when she reclined atop Laird’s piano during her sultry-with-a-touch-of-comedy rendition of “Fever,” backed by Rivard on bass and her drummer Cubby O’Brien. If his name rings a bell, yes – he is THAT Cubby, one of the original Mouseketeers. Peters sang a simple, lovely, no frills version of R&H’s “Some Enchanted Evening” that let the power of the song speak for itself before going into total Sondheim mode.
Known as one of the foremost interpreters of Sondheim’s work (she refers to him as “a National Treasure”), Peters completed her four month-run as Sally in the Broadway revival of Follies in January and treated the audience to a pair of her character’s songs. She traveled an arc from light and chipper at the start of “In Buddy’s Eyes,” relating the way her husband sees her, to a near breakdown in “Losing My Mind,” when Sally realizes that the man she has loved from afar for three decades does not love her. Peters’ transformation to this state of mind was absolute; she performed the song from beginning to end with tears streaming down her face. It doesn’t really give her anywhere to go emotionally, but it is incredibly powerful, nonetheless. The audience rose and showered her with applause while she stood in darkness where the spotlight had been, collecting herself before continuing the program with two final Sondheim pieces (“Joanna,” “Being Alive”).
The encore selection was Peters’ own composition, a sweet lullaby to her dog entitled “Kramer’s Song,” written in conjunction with a children’s book she penned to raise funds for “Broadway Barks,” an annual dog adoption event which she co-founded with her friend Mary Tyler Moore. The multi-talented Tony Award-winning actress/songstress last performed with the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall six years ago. She’ll be appearing on the season-ending episode of NBC’s Smash next Monday night. Let’s hope that both gigs are repeated very soon.
For a look at the complete Boston Pops 127th season (May 9 – June 16), visit www.Bostonpops.org
Photo credit: Andrew Eccles (Bernadette Peters)