Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He jes' keeps rollin’ along

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing the last of the season’s Florida Sunshine Pops series of concerts at our nearby Eissey Campus Theatre. I’ve written about the Pops before and its gifted, octogenarian conductor, Richard Hayman.

This was a special concert devoted to Rodgers and Hammerstein, the undisputed Broadway innovators who, with Oklahoma!, changed everything about the Broadway musical. Their contributions to the Great American Songbook are legendary.

So yesterday’s concert was a “grand night for singing” and that is what makes this series so special: the level of the talent and professionalism that accompanies the orchestra. Last night’s featured performers were William Michaels, Lisa Vroman, and Stephen Buntrock all leading players on Broadway. They were joined by the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus, giving a truly inspirational dimension to those particular songs that so readily lend themselves to choral accompaniment such as Climb Every Mountain or Oklahoma! (which we learned, last night, was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in a half hour while the show was being previewed in New Haven).

Another highpoint was the Florida Pop’s rendition of the beautiful Carousel Waltz, no doubt orchestrated by the maestro himself, Richard Hayman. If it were not for Johann Strauss, Jr, I think Richard Rodgers would be known at the “waltz king” as so many of his greatest pieces were in three quarter tempo.

But for me, the solos by Michals, Vroman, and Buntrock, were especially remarkable, not only for the quality of their voices but as Broadway trained actors, by their ability to communicate the emotion of the song as they comport themselves on the stage.

Naturally, I had my favorites, Lisa Vroman has a Julie Andrews voice and in fact sung The Lonely Goatherd, the yodeling ditty so closely identified with Andrews from The Sound of Music.

William Michaels is currently appearing in the landmark revival South Pacific at Lincoln Center. His rich baritone voice lends itself to the role of Emile de Becque but last night he sang what some have called the greatest song from the American musical theatre, Ol’ Man River from Showboat (artistic license: music by Jerome Kern, but lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein). Hammerstein described it as “a song of resignation with protest implied.” Perhaps it is a song for our times and my piano rendition is here.

Then there was Stephen Buntrock’s rendition of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin the opening song from Oklahoma!, sung by the cowboy, Curly. In fact, Buntrock recently appeared as Curly in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma! so he follows in the tradition of Alfred Drake, Howard Keel, and Gordon Macrae. It’s a delicate, beautiful song, an uncharacteristic opening song for a Broadway musical, but after all, this was the musical that established a new direction for the musical theatre, making the music intrinsic to the plot, driving character development. My piano rendition of Oh What a Beautiful Mornin can be heard here.