Maestro Bob Lappin and the Palm Beach Pops rounded out their 20th season with a bang Monday night, bringing a delightful two-fold tribute to the Great White Way and what could be called the “Music of the Mouse” to the Kravis.
The Magic of Broadway and Disney Favorites, the last of this season’s six programs, brought a healthy dose of both genres — with a few nice surprises — in a professionally packaged presentation that hit on all cylinders every step of the way.
An exceptional sound mix, a revised lighting design that coordinated with both the flow of the music as well as the wardrobe of the performers, along with thoughtfully planned pacing and staging combined to make for a very enjoyable experience. Having two bona fide Broadway stars sitting in certainly didn’t hurt either.
The first of the final two shows of the season opened with a hometown favorite: 13-year-old Olivia Schiappa from Jupiter kicked things off with a strong performance of the National Anthem that immediately warmed up the crowd. The All Saints School student held her own, both with the orchestra and during some cute banter with Lappin.
The orchestra began the evening “On Broadway” with the overture from A Chorus Line, in an arrangement that featured the string section — and a fine solo from violinist Rafael Elvira — on the ballad What I Did For Love. This was followed by one of the very best numbers: the stunning Larry Wilcox chart of Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day, that soothed like a hot cup of soup on, well, a rainy day. Granted, it had no Broadway or Disney connection, but it was so easy on the ears you just didn’t care.
Then came the guest artists, who were wisely put to good use early and often. First up was Pops favorite David Burnham, who scored big with a smooth, swaggering reading of Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me (from Can-Can). Best known for his Broadway performances in Wicked and The Light In The Piazza, Burnham’s effervescent tenor was in fine form on more modern show tunes such as the blockbuster This Is The Moment (from Jekyll and Hyde).
Next came the lovely Lea Salonga with the touching I Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon, for which she won a Tony Award. This Filipina mezzo-soprano also played two different roles in Les Miserables (including a solid performance as Fantine in the 2010 25th anniversary concert). She also has the distinction of providing the singing voice for two Disney “princesses”: Jasmine in Aladdin and the title role in the two Mulan animated features, making her a natural choice for the evening’s assignment.
The soloists did most of the heavy lifting in the second half, taking turns in a Broadway/Disney sing-off, with Burnham opening with I Am What I Am from La Cage Aux Folles, then moving from Schubert Alley to Lake Buena Vista with a warm and fuzzy reading of the chestnut When You Wish Upon A Star that had the crowd wistfully singing along. Salonga countered with Colors of the Wind, the Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy-award winning song from Disney’s Pocahontas, and then the beautiful Reflection from Mulan.
Of special note was a powerful Les Miz twin-spin by the duo: I Dreamed A Dream — which Salonga absolutely nailed — and Bring Him Home, featuring Burnham’s soaring tenor.
A pair of knockout duets — As Long As You’re Mine from Wicked and another Oscar-winner, A Whole New World from Aladdin (which Salonga actually sang on the Oscar telecast the night it won the trophy) — closed out the evening on a high note.
Overall, the combination of an easily accessible theme, featuring exceptional guests soloists, singing from a well-paced set list, accompanied by a stellar group of musicians, made for a strong, satisfying close to the Pops season. Add to that proven formula substantially enhanced production values across the board and you have the kind of cultural experience worthy of the Pops brand; a point of reference for future seasons and a new standard that could help this organization thrive where others have failed. Season 21 for the Pops kicks off in November.