Saturday, October 5, 2013

ISO salutes the major inspirations of Kander & Ebb's long Broadway run

The show has a generous length on paper, though in rehearsal Jack Everly and his production team for the latest Symphonic Pops Consortium show came to see that some trims were in order.

So, the prolific team of Broadway team of John Kander and Fred Ebb would have to have a more streamlined salute as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra opened its Pops Series this weekend at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Above the orchestra was a majestic display of poster reproductions from a range of Kander and Ebb shows.

Jack Everly and team had to be selective with the riches of Kander and Ebb.
In addition to some cuts likely undetectable by anyone unfamiliar with the show in development, the innovative curtain raiser to "Zorba" — "Life Is," which I bet the guest artists in this program would have done memorably — and "The Grass Is Always Greener" from "Woman of the Year" had to go.
(At a Wood Room party after Friday's performance, Everly told me that the latter was cut for artistic reasons, saying nothing falls flatter than a dated comic song, which "Greener" dawned on him as being.)

What ISO audiences are hearing and seeing this weekend is smart and trim enough. Too bad "On Broadway With Kander & Ebb"  ends with a flagging of imagination as "New York, New York" rolls out. The song has taken on an anthemic quality in pop culture, so little attempt was made to stage it, in contrast to the rest of the show. On Friday, hand-clapping and progressive tempo broadenings rendered the performance enthusiastic but rather ragged, and no doubt almost everyone left the hall happy despite this.

Both acts opened with a showcase for the ISO, conducted with panache by Everly: a tasty stew of the team's tunes for an overture and the clever tintinnabulations of "Ring Them Bells" (from "Liza with a Z") right after intermission.
 
The staging and flow of "On Broadway With Kander & Ebb" were exemplary, though what sticks in the mind and heart are several of the solos: Ted Keegan's voice, a higher-pitched version of John Raitt in this one interpretation, showed mastery of phrasing and expressiveness in "First You Dream" (from "Steel Pier"); he was equally effective as a much less confident character, using a wholly different vocal style, when he sang ""Mister Cellophane" (from "Chicago").

Nikki Renee Daniels tugged at the heart with her smooth, yearning solo in "Go Back Home" (from "The Scottsboro Boys"), given a poignant accompaniment in pastels by ISO librarian Michael Runyan. Nick Adams, the guest quintet's most accomplished dancer, also projected vocal charisma as the show opened with "Willkommen" from "Cabaret," Kander & Ebb's first big hit. Daniels and Jessica Rush effectively shared another solo, "Maybe This Time," written for the film version of "Cabaret."

Certainly the most commanding solos of the evening were turned in by Beth Leavel: "Everybody's Girl," "How Lucky Can You Get," "City Lights" and "When You're Good to Mama" illustrated the chameleon character of her voice, blended with an effervescent stage presence in which everything physically and vocally worked in synch to slam-dunk every song she was spotlighted in.

A company of local dancers fleshed out some numbers, spiffily choreographed by Jennifer Ladner. The ad hoc troupe performed creditably, except for one instance of crossed signals or perhaps a memory slip. Unmentioned in the printed program, they are Kenny Shepard, Anne Beck, Joe Perkins, Danny Kingston, Christine Thacker and Amy Owens.

The show will be repeated at 8 p.m. today, then find a place on several other orchestra schedules in the U.S. and Canada over the next two seasons.