BWW Review: A Grand Night for Singing at The Pops
The Very Best of the Boston Pops with Jason Alexander
Keith Lockhart, Conductor
Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 8 pm
Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA
617-266-1492 or www.bostonpops.org
The Boston Pops, affectionately known as "America's Orchestra," opened its 129th spring season, The Very Best of the Boston Pops, with Keith Lockhart conducting a program of music by American masters and the song stylings of Broadway showman Jason Alexander. Perhaps best known for his role as George Costanza on Seinfeld (1989-1998), Alexander is a veteran of five Broadway musicals and a Tony Award-winner for Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and his performance was a celebration of the music of the Great White Way.
The orchestra's first selection was the rousing, Western-themed "Buckaroo Holiday" from Aaron Copland's 1942 ballet Rodeo. Changing tempo and volume, Antonin Dvorak's "Largo" from the New World Symphony was beautifully played, featuring English Horn soloist Barbara LaFitte. The Pops showed off their considerable swing chops with Don Sebesky's fantastic arrangement of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills. Taking turns in the spotlight were Michael Monaghan on saxophone, Ben Cook on piano, and Jim Gwin on the drum kit.
Lockhart paid tribute to his predecessor, Laureate Conductor John Williams, before playing the majestic "Theme from Jurassic Park," one of Williams' many film scores. No concert of American music would be complete without something by George Gershwin and we were treated to Sid Ramin's light, airy arrangement of "'S Wonderful" from Funny Face. The next treat was the world premiere performance of an arrangement by Chris Brubeck of his late father Dave's "Blue Rondo a la Turk." The Brubeck scion was in the house to hear the work the Pops commissioned him to write. The first half of the program closed with the popular ABBA hit "Dancing Queen" (Andersson/Ulvaeus/Anderson-Walden) and the evening wrapped up with John Philips Sousa's much-loved The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Returning for the first time since his 1996 debut with the Pops, Alexander strode confidently onto the stage after intermission to an enthusiastic welcome. Although his headshot in the program shows him wearing a hairpiece, he opted for an au natural hairstyle and appeared trim in matching charcoal gray slacks and dotted vest atop an open necked blue shirt. He dived into Jason Robert Brown's "Shiksa Goddess" (The Last Five Years), later explaining that the song mirrored his own experience with a college girlfriend "who was not of the Hebraic faith." It just so happens that Alexander's college experience took place right here at Boston University, although he admitted that he dropped out prior to his senior year (but later received an honorary degree).
Alexander shared that he grew up in New Jersey and his parents took him to see his first Broadway show when he was five years old. In honor of The Music Man, he proceeded to offer his fast-paced, gesture-filled rendition of "Trouble." By the time he was thirteen, he was an avid magician and had made friends with theater kids who convinced him to see the original version of Pippin, a show filled with magic. From that event, Alexander says his life was changed and he adopted Pippin's song "Corner of the Sky" as his audition piece. He sang it for us as if he owned it, joined by his pianist/arranger Todd Schroeder and by Maureen Brennan on vocals.
Despite the show being a flop, Alexander has very fond memories of making his Broadway debut in 1981 in Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along and names the composer as the one he would choose if he could only listen to one composer for the rest of his life. He followed with a medley of three songs from the show - "Good Thing Going," "Now You Know," and "Not a Day Goes By" - before performing the medley to exceed all medleys. After his success on Seinfeld, Alexander hoped to return to Broadway with a wish list of musical roles that "they" told him were inappropriate for him. Thus, "The Inappropriate Medley" was born and it was a highlight.
Alexander showed his versatility with snippets of songs from more than a dozen shows, among them Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Annie, Cats, Dreamgirls, and Man of LaMancha. As evidenced by some of the titles, gender was no barrier for his ambitions and he employed a variety of wigs and props to help him pull off the characters. After that tour de force, nobody was ready for him to call it a night, but his finale was well-chosen. Reminiscing that his late father's last words to him were "I'll see you later," Alexander said that he sings William Finn's "Anytime" (Elegies) in all of his concerts for his father. I'm pretty sure that Alexander Greenspan was listening and kvelling.