As the fate of Spider-Man literally hung in the balance on Broadway over the weekend, another musical hero of sorts started the week defending truth, justice and the Great White Way at the Kravis Center.
Maestro Bob Lappin led the Palm Beach Pops through a balanced and thoroughly enjoyable program Monday night, highlighting show tunes from the Great American Songbook. This year’s edition of the annual Pops salute to “The Best of Broadway” made great use of returning guest soloists Christine Andreas and David Burnham, and provided a showcase for both the group as a whole as well as several key players.
The evening got off to a nice start with Lappin kicking off Gershwin’s Embraceable You (from the show Girl Crazy) on piano, then bringing in the orchestra. The lavish My Fair Lady medley that followed opened the door for Andreas, who played Eliza Doolittle in the 20th anniversary production of the show. The stage veteran, on a brief break from her starring role as Jacqueline in the current Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles, comfortably belted out the classic I Could Have Danced All Night as if she were getting reacquainted with an old friend. Sax man Jim Hayward then stepped out front, complete with a wide-brimmed fedora, to lend some tasteful accent riffs around Andreas’ smoky vocal on My Heart Belongs To Daddy.
Burnham followed with a solid take on Stranger In Paradise from Kismet. Although this song was originally done as a duet, Burnham’s emotional delivery and soaring tenor made the song work as a solo. An attempt at the usually bankable crowd-pleaser Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, from the modern-day classic jukebox musical Jersey Boys, didn’t fare as well — the tempo felt rushed and the choreography was a bit over the top — though Burnham would certainly be a good fit for that show.
The natural blending of the brass and string sections, complemented by an exceptional sound mix, presented a full, lush sound that was very easy on the ears while allowing for both vocalists to be heard with no problem.
The first half closed with two great chestnuts from the Pops catalogue: a Stan Kenton big band arrangement of Lullaby of Broadway from 42nd Street (in which principle trombonist Dante Luciani totally wailed) and an up-tempo jazz reading of My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. The closer began with just the trio — Lappin on piano with veteran sidemen Frank Derrick on drums and Ranses Colon on upright bass — then built to a fever pitch with the horns stabbing the familiar melody line on the final pass.
The second half continued to build on the foundation established in the first set, beginning with a gorgeous medley from Carousel that featured notable solos by Concert Master Mary Rowell on violin and Sara Fletcher on oboe. Andreas and Burnham returned with a beautiful rendition of the classic duet, Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific, and then proceeded to take turns knocking tunes out of the park for the rest of the evening.
Burnham scored with big sprawling ballads such as Bring Him Home from Les Miserables and This Is The Moment from Jekyll & Hyde — The Musical, while Andreas showed remarkable vocal control on songs such as Jerry Herman’s If He Walked Into My Life from Mame.
But the lid really came off when the pair teamed up to close the program with a non-Broadway selection, the pop classic The Prayer, originally recorded by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. Backed by the full orchestra, this powerful performance ended the evening on a high note and provided an inspirational message of hope to help kick off the holiday season with a smile.
With two strong guest stars and a roster of some of the finest musicians in the Southeast, the Palm Beach Pops has once again brought “The Best of Broadway” to South Florida.
A little slice of Shubert Alley right in our own backyard.