Los Angeles Concert Review: HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD (Pasadena POPS)

by Jim Allen on August 19, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

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Surrounded by lush vegetation and a seemingly endless expanse of verdant lawn, with a clear, starry sky overhead, the L.A. Arboretum was a perfect setting to enjoy Hooray for Hollywood, the Pasadena POPS’ celebration of Hollywood film music, hosted (and at times conducted) by the charming and talented principal conductor, Michael Feinstein.

Michael Feinstein in HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD with the Pasadena POPS and Michael Feinstein, Aug 16, 2014

The concert turned-out to be a very entertaining, if somewhat uneven, offering of musical movie magic. It also provided the POPS with an opportunity to salute ASCAP’s 100th anniversary (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). The combination of Hollywood and ASCAP would appear to be the perfect resource from which to cull great movie music, but Pops concerts are, by their very nature, rather like throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. In this instance, most of it did – but not all.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD with the Pasadena POPS and Michael Feinstein, Aug 16, 2014.

Feinstein kicked-off the evening with a rousing performance of “Hooray for Hollywood” (Hollywood Hotel (1937); music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Johnny Mercer), replete with additional, uncredited special lyrics. The effervescent Feinstein could sell ice to Eskimos, and he certainly sold us, effectively launching the evening in grand style. He followed it by conducting the orchestra in a lovely rendition of the original and complete “Mary Poppins Overture” (1964, Sherman Brothers, composers; Irwin Kostal, arranger; and Brad Kelly, adapter), an arrangement which, according to Feinstein, was not included on the film’s original soundtrack LP.

In addition to an array of guest vocalists, the concert also featured composers/ conductors Larry Blank, Bruce Broughton, Chris Caswell, and Michael Giacchino, all of whom, in turn, conducted the excellent orchestra. A particular stand-out was Giacchino, whose offering was a special arrangement of selections from his Oscar-winning score Disney’s Up (2009) complimented by a cleverly edited Pasadena Pops' Principal Conductor Michael Feinstein - POSTERvideo sequence of scenes from the film, projected on the venue’s two large screens, stage right and left.

The vocal stand-out of the evening was Maureen McGovern, in fine voice and much more relaxed and connected to both material and audience than in recent memory. Her first number, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” was presented in tribute to legendary arranger and conductor Kostal. She followed it with a knock-out performance of a Harold Arlen Medley, which included “The Man That Got Away,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Blues in the Night” (lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Ted Koehler, and Johnny Mercer, respectively). Had there been a roof at this amphitheater, Ms. McGovern would most decidedly have blown it off. The success and substance of her excellent set stood in stark contrast to the “drive-by” nature of the all-too-brief appearances of some of the other guest vocalists.

Maureen McGovern in HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, Pasadena POPS and Michael Feinstein, Aug 16, 2014.

Debby Boone, still a beauty, sang merely one song – her Grammy-winning 1977 hit, “You Light up My Life” (music and lyrics by Joe Brooks) and was gone for night. Similarly, singer/songwriter/ASCAP Board Prez Paul Williams gave us his “Rainbow Connection” (The Muppet Movie (1979); lyrics by Kenny Ascher) and exited, as did iconic lyricist Alan Bergman, who delighted the crowd with a heartfelt reading of his own “The Windmills of Your Mind” (The Thomas Crown Affair (1969); Marilyn Bergman, co-lyricist, music by Michel Legrand).

Debby Boone in HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD with the Pasadena POPS and Michael Feinstein, Aug 16, 2014.

Musical theatre favorite Kevin Earley offered-up a rather wooden rendition of the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields classic, “The Way You Look Tonight” (Swing Time, 1936); Bill Elliot’s rather Muzak-y orchestral arrangement did not help matters. Earley smartly  acquitted himself later in the evening with a fun and swinging take on the Mercer/Pied Pipers recording of “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (The Harvey Girls (1946); Harry Warren/Mercer) Standing in for the Pied Pipers was the terrific vocal group, Down for the Count.

Paul Williams in HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD with the Pasadena POPS and Michael Feinstein, Aug 16, 2014.

The rest of the concert featured an array of film music, some pieces rare treats, others familiar, well-loved, and occasionally a bit shop-worn. All were exquisitely played by an ensemble which includes some of Southern California’s top orchestral musicians, many of whom have been heard by audiences around the world on countless movie soundtracks. Especially noteworthy: Their performance of the original arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (Top Hat (1935); arranged by Einar Swan, Gerard Parkman, and Menotti Salta), and Jule Styne’s “Funny Girl Overture” (arranged by Herbert Spencer). The beautifully played music is one of the reasons this hit-and-miss event was an all-in-all charming evening.

photos by Jeffrey Mayer

Hooray for Hollywood
Pasadena POPS
Michael Feinstein, conductor
L.A. County Arboretum, 301 N Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia
played on July 16, 2014
for future events, call 626.793.7172 or visit www.PasadenaSymphony-Pops.org

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