BWW Reviews: Baltimore Symphony's Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch Highlights Strength of His Music and Character
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) conductor Jack Everly's strong history with the late, great award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch underscored a relatively unique and heartfelt tribute concert at Bethesda's renowned Music Center at Strathmore this week. His rich, personal stories about the man and his music and careful attention to presenting not only songs that the prodigious talent wrote, but also ones that he wished he had written made for a relatively well-rounded concert event for those well-versed in Hamlisch's work and perhaps those who were not. The BSO - an orchestra with a longstanding affiliation to Hamlisch - local and New York-based vocal talent from the musical theatre and opera worlds, and several up-and-coming youth singers and dancers all worked as one to pay a sincere tribute to the man that will not soon be forgotten.
Featuring selections from film and the stage, Everly and company gave the audience a taste of the familiar and, to a slightly lesser extent, the less known Hamlisch compositions and the works that inspired him. Whether playing selections from Hamlisch's lesser known film score for The Swimmer (with a standout moment from cellist Chang Woo Lee), "That's How I Say Goodbye" - a cut selection from the short-lived Sweet Smell of Success - Jule Styne's overture to the Broadway classic Gypsy, or Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story - both selections Hamlisch himself said, several years ago, that he wanted to be included in any tribute concert - the BSO's musicianship was first rate. Although the BSO didn't quite achieve what I would call an awe-inspiring groove and energy in the more up-beat instrumental musical theatre numbers from Gypsy, They're Playing Our Song, or The Goodbye Girl - with the exception of the exceptional pianist Lura Johnson - one had to at the very least appreciate the solid technique on display.
Lead vocalist Marissa McGowan, who starred in the world premiere of Hamlisch's last musical The Nutty Professor, proved capable of handling the diverse kinds of music that Hamlisch gave to the world. She was delightfully cheery and endearing - and appropriately bubbly - as she took on his popular hits "California Nights" and "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows." The versatile McGowan also conveyed real emotion as she courageously tackled the mammoth Oscar-winning "The Way We Were." While her crystal clear vocals aren't exactly the most memorable or unique of the current crop of American musical theatre talent, they are certainly proficient, beautiful, and are well matched with her solid stage presence.