BSO audience gets Broadway treatment

Music Review

May 01, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hit pay dirt when it hired Jack Everly as principal pops conductor. He clicks with the musicians in a big way, bringing exceptional knowledge and communicative skills to the podium. Above all, he believes in what he's doing. It's a genuine passion, and it can be contagious.

Everly is also music director of the Symphonic Pops Consortium, which pools the resources of six orchestras to produce thoroughly professional presentations with costumes and lighting like the BSO's current show, Broadway Divas. Folks soured on pops by scattershot programming or schlocky emcees should find reassurance in the consortium's creative, cohesive products.

Broadway Divas may not be screamingly original in concept, but it gains a certain freshness from breezy pacing, dollops of humor and spirited vocalists. Here, it also has the benefit of a tight orchestra. (I caught most of Thursday afternoon's performance.)

None of the show's singers will erase memories of legendary Broadway artists, and all are hampered to one degree or another by the mushy, pushy amplification at Meyerhoff Hall. Still, these four diva-saluters (4 1/2 , counting 13-year-old, eager-to-please Jenny Rose Baker) can certainly put over a song.

Anne Runolfsson's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables is touchingly sculpted. Cara Johnston subtly limns "The Sound of Music." Virginia Woodruff tears up the place with striking vocal fireworks and a startling degree of emotional intensity in "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls.

And Christine Pedi, lately of The Sopranos and a veteran of Forbidden Broadway, re-creates Carol Channing's delivery of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with uncanny accuracy and charm. Pedi's impersonations of Ethel Merman and, especially, a dead-on Liza Minnelli, brighten the show.

Some things don't quite come off, including an extended take on "I Love a Piano" and a camped-up "With One Look" from Sunset Boulevard (the song is too good to be used just for a long joke). And I'm not sure how "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" fits into the scheme of things, being Hollywood rather than Broadway. Runolfsson's frantic, screechy interpretation doesn't help sell it.

No matter. There's always an appealing melodic hook coming up in this show. And Everly has the BSO cooking stylishly, notably in Jule Styne's crackling overture to Gypsy and a medley from Chicago (with trombonist Christopher Dudley wailing mightily on "And All That Jazz"). The conductor's respect and affection for Broadway's divas - Broadway, period - keeps everything humming.

An die Musik

Baltimore's new, very cozy, potentially very hip performance space on the top floor of the record store An die Musik, at 415 N. Charles St., now has concerts of classical, jazz or world music on tap just about every week. On Tuesday night, maverick cellist Matt Haimovitz powerfully played brooding items by Lou Harrison, Osvaldo Golijov and David Sanford from his new CD, Anthem.

And the Miro Quartet offered the last half of Mendelssohn's F minor Quartet - an incisive, arresting demonstration - to plug another new CD, Epilogue. That disc also contains Schubert's C major String Quintet with Haimovitz joining the Miro ensemble as the extra cellist. The musicians closed this concert with a live performance of that profound Schubert work, breathing deeply of its lyrical, melancholy beauty. You rarely get to feel so much musical heat in such an intimate room.

BSO Pops

Where Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When 8 tonight, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets $27 to $75

Call 410-783-8000

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