BWW Review: OPENING NIGHT AT BOSTON POPS WITH BERNADETTE PETERS
Opening Night at Pops
The Boston Pops Orchestra
Keith Lockhart, Conductor
Sunita L. Williams, Narrator
Steve Colby, Sound Designer; Pamela Smith, Lighting Designer
Wednesday - Thursday, May 8-9, 2019, 8 pm at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA; Tickets: 888-266-1200 or 617-266-1492 or www.bostonpops.org
Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra opened the 134th Spring Pops season with a 50th anniversary tribute to the watershed events of the summer of 1969, two stunning short films, a homegrown astronaut, and a celestial Broadway legend. Commencing with the "Opening Fanfare" from Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme used in "2001: A Space Odyssey"), and concluding with the Pops' signature song, John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the two selections bookended the program that took us to the moon, to the past, and to the Great White Way.
Stepping up to the podium for his 25th opening night as conductor, Lockhart led the orchestra through an exciting first half of both familiar and new music. Following the majestic "Fanfare," a large screen descended for the showing of "Luna," (produced by Susan Dangel and Dick Bartlett) featuring a series of incredible photographs of the moon over Boston by award-winning photographer Babak Tafreshi, underscored by "Daybreak" from Daphnis and Chloé (Ravel). No Pops concert is complete without a piece by Conductor Laureate John Williams, and the choice of "The Turbulent Years" from the score of the 1995 Oliver Stone film Nixon was appropriate as the 37th president began his first term in 1969.
On a lighter note, a folk anthem from the Woodstock era, "Both Sides Now" (Mitchell-Mathes) received a beautiful airing, thanks to Thomas Martin (clarinet) and Thomas Siders (flugelhorn). Between songs, Lockhart provided snippets of a timeline for 1969, before introducing "Overture/Pinball Wizard" from Tommy (Townshend), the first rock concept album. It was a showcase for drummer James Gwin and the work of lighting designer Pamela Smith. The highlight of the evening's tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing was the Boston premiere of Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer James Beckel's From the Earth to the Moon and Beyond, a glorious, expansive piece of music. The Pops invited Needham native and NASA Astronaut Sunita L. Williams to narrate as the music soared beneath the screening of a film by Brannon Fells, showing the moon, space, earth from space, and inspiring pictures of human exploration.
After intermission, the Pops set the stage for their special guest with "Hello, Dolly!" (from Hello, Dolly!) (Herman-Hayman) before welcoming Bernadette Peters, the Broadway diva making her sixth appearance with the orchestra. Accompanied by her music director/pianist Marvin Laird, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Cubby O'Brien (yes, THAT Cubby O'Brien, one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers), Peters' program was chock full of selections by composer Stephen Sondheim, a couple of old musical theater gems, and a pair of songs from Dolly! In case anyone was unaware, Peters took on the title role in the Broadway revival last year after Bette Midler concluded her run. She gave a little synopsis of the story before launching into "Before the Parade Passes By" and "So Long, Dearie."
With a long history of performing his works, Peters is renowned for her talent for interpreting Sondheim. Although it was not one of her character's songs, she sang "No One is Alone" (Into the Woods), backed by Laird and cellist Mickey Katz, and gave a poignant rendition of "Send In the Clowns" (A Little Night Music). Having played Sally in the 2011 revival of Follies, Peters turned "In Buddy's Eyes" into a dramatic moment, acting the song in character. She saved the best for last, choosing another great Sondheim tune that she never sang in a show, yet making it her own. As her set was winding down, Peters seemed to be losing a little steam, but she lived up to the title in "Being Alive" (Company), almost as if she had been holding something in reserve, and blew the roof off with her belt and a blast of brio. That would have been a great way to end the evening and send the crowd out into the night with a spring in their steps, but Sousa always gets the last note. Final images: unfurling a giant American flag above the musicians, streamers shooting out from the sides of the proscenium, dozens of red, white, and blue balloons tumbling down from the ceiling, and happy patrons of the arts popping them with childlike abandon.
[The program will be repeated Thursday night, May 9th, for the annual Presidents at Pops, an important annual fundraising event for the BSO.]
Photo credit: Michael Blanchard (Bernadette Peters and the Boston Pops Orchestra)