Boston Pops "Bernstein Tribute": Glitter & Be Gay

Andrew Tighe, Keith Lockhart, Aimee Doherty, Matthew DiBattista & David McFerrin
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The title of the Boston Pops says it all: Leonard Bernstein Centennial Tribute, celebrating not only the centennial of the birth of the prolific composer but also the 133rd season of the Boston Pops. As such, the program faced an embarrassment of riches. Any retrospective of the composer's life work would have to include some of the more obvious choices, such as the overture to Candide, his early accomplishments such as Fancy Free and its later evolution into On the Town, and the hugely successful groundbreaking West Side Story. In some respects, choosing from the depth and breadth of his works is easy; in some other respects, it's well nigh impossible, since he made his mark on the symphonic stage, opera, Broadway, art songs and one film score. Under the direction of locally renowned actress Paula Plum, five expert vocalists presented several of Bernstein's signature pieces, under the energetic direction of its long-time conductor, Keith Lockhart. He also provided back stories to some of the chosen works, much of it from memory, and made sure his audience would be struck by the famed composer's unmatched versatility. As he said at one point, Bernstein would have excelled in so many genres save for the fact that his talent was so expansive that he chose not to restrict himself in any one direction. And it was sobering to be reminded that the composer's first conducting role with a professional orchestra was with the Pops, in 1941.

David McFerrin & The Boston Pops
(photo: Hilary Scott)

After a Pops favorite, the overture to Candide, (discuss amongst yourselves whether to consider this work an operetta or an opera), and an orchestral nod to the ballet Fancy Free with its distinct Galop, Waltz and Danzon, the program segued to the more fully developed musical that was to be On the Town. With lyrics by Comden and Green (created, as Lockhart noted, by a trio who were all in their mid-twenties), the program included the stirring New York, New York, the haunting Lonely Town, the hilarious I Can Cook, Too and the wistful Lucky to Be Me. The performers included local luminary Aimee Doherty (fresh off a smashing star turn in Moonbox Productions' recent Cabaret) the commanding baritone voice of David McFerrin, and the winning Andy Tighe, as well as another well-known local performer, Teresa Winner Blume. There was also a last-minute replacement, opera singer Matthew DiBattista, who stepped in for the ailing Matthew Anderson. All showed themselves to be well up to the task of conveying Bernstein's sultry slow moments as well as the jazzier fast tempi.

Matthew DiBattista & Teresa Winner Blume
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The program continued with a selection from Bernstein's sole film score from On the Waterfront (the love scene and finale) and an explanation from Lockhart as to why the composer never wrote again for the silver screen. Bernstein felt that music should always be paramount, rather than relegated to the background and the necessary restrictions inherent in scoring for the movies. One couldn't help but think of frequent Pops conductor John Williams to appreciate fully the demands of such focus on a composer. Happily, the mood changed abruptly with the next work heard, the crazy Wrong Note Rag from Wonderful Town, (best appreciated by true musicians who understand just how miraculous a composition this is), which introduced a medley of numbers from this show, again with lyrics by Comden and Green, including the witty What a Waste, the ironic A Little Bit in Love, and the concluding selection for the first half of the program, Conga, (with updated lyrics referencing border walls, Keith's band, and Brady's rings) with which the singers exited dancing through the audience.

Matthew DiBattista, Andrew Tighe, Aimee Doherty, David McFerrin & Teresa Winner Blume
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The second part of the performance began with selections from Bernstein's arguably most beloved work, West Side Story. Lockhart here correctly noted that the original title was to have been East Side Story, about Jewish and Irish gangs; fortunately the composer went with West Side Story and its Latino conflicts that could entail jazz and other musical influences, as demonstrated by Something's Coming, One Hand, One Heart, Tonight, and America! To end the program there was a segment devoted to the more “classical” songs, once again from Candide: The Best of All Possible Worlds, I Am Easily Assimilated, the rousing Make Our Garden Grow, and perhaps the composer's finest number, Glitter and Be Gay, hysterically delivered by Blume with her lyric coloratura. Standout renderings of the songs also included Doherty's wildly perfect I Can Cook, Too, McFerrin's heartbreaking Lonely Town, Tighe's irresistible Lucky To Be Me, and DiBattista's powerful Something's Coming.

And, just when we thought we'd heard everything Bernstein, the orchestra and soloists gave us an encore, perhaps as we had been secretly wishing, absolutely his finest song, at least in this critic's lexicon, the bittersweet Some Other Time from On The Town. It was the perfect ending to a well-thought-out and beautifully presented tribute.

And that some other time? The program will be repeated on May 17th, May 29th and May 30th.

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