In a program that was equal parts Hollywood, Broadway and Brooklyn, Maestro Bob Lappin and the Palm Beach Pops paid tribute to the original Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand, with help from special guest Gloria Loring, one of the few voices in the business who could meet let alone exceed such a daunting challenge. All the performers Monday at the Kravis were at the top of their game, making for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The evening opened with a taste of what was to come — the original overture score from Streisand’s 1964 breakout Broadway hit, Funny Girl, followed by a gorgeous reading of Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day that featured an ultra-lush string section. Then came one of Irving Berlin’s first hits, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, kicked off with whimsy and vinegar by the stellar brass section, sounding like a Salvation Army band on a New Orleans street corner.
Rounding out the opening set was a Pops staple, the beautiful Mike Renzi arrangement of a medley of tunes by Michel Legrand, which included a tasty, up-tempo jazz take on I Will Wait For You.
The rest of the evening belonged to Loring, who commanded the stage from Note One of the only possible opener, The Greatest Star, the first of several selections from Funny Girl. A singer, actress and songwriter, Loring is probably best known for her 1986 pop hit, Friends and Lovers, her role years ago on the daytime drama, Days of Our Lives, and her success as a writer of several immortal TV theme songs, for shows such as The Facts of Life and Growing Pains. She also happens to be the mother of current R & B sensation Robin Thicke, her son with ex-husband, actor Alan Thicke. But first and foremost, the lady came to sing — and sing she did — bringing the right combination of pipes and acting chops to give the evening’s tall order its due. Selling the big numbers all the way to the back row of the house and holding the audience in the palm of her hand on the ballads, Loring paid proper respect to the original article while interpreting the material with a personal touch very much her own.
With able assistance from her musical director and accompanist, Rich Callaci, on piano and Pops veteran drummer Frank Derrick holding things together with Lappin, Loring worked through the Streisand songbook with a polished confidence that put both audience and the musicians very much at ease. This was especially true for Lappin, who had the luxury of a guest star who could take the wheel and drive the show, allowing him to focus solely on his conducting duties a little more than usual.
Among the many highlights were ballads such as Evergreen, Streisand’s Oscar-winning Best Original Song from A Star Is Born, a sweet duet with 2010 Palm Beach PopStar finalist (and Fort Lauderdale phenom) Jimmy Barkan on You Don’t Send Me Flowers, and a great medley of The Way We Were and People.
Big numbers included note-perfect renditions of Streisand signatures On A Clear Day, Rain On My Parade and Happy Days Are Here Again, which featured a nice solo by saxman Randy Emerick. A Sondheim medley provided several of Streisand’s personal favorites, such as the emotional Send in the Clowns, which blended right into the romantic classic Somewhere, from West Side Story, and the multi-syllabic mouthful Not Getting Married Today, from Company. The obvious — and satisfying — closer, Loring’s own Friends and Lovers, had the audience singing backup and swaying in ¾ time.
Overall, the combination of solid musicianship, great charts and a guest vocalist — who was arguably the perfect choice for the job at hand — made for one of the better Pops concerts in recent memory. Like sands through the hourglass, this evening slipped away much too soon.