Concert Review: Rich Little delivers big Pops performance
Friday, November 12, 1999
By Rebecca Redshaw
Don’t bother to come to the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops concert, starring Rich Little, at Heinz Hall this weekend unless you bring along your sense of humor and toe-tapping shoes.
Thursday night crowds are sometimes hard audiences to win over. They’re frequently tired from the week’s work challenges, frustrated in not having time for a preshow cocktail, or worse yet, sleepy from a rushed dinner which acts as an unintentional sedative.
Robert Bernhardt’s first downbeat of the “Festive Overture” by Shostakovich set the tempo for an evening of lighthearted music the audience greeted enthusiastically.
A series of LeRoy Anderson tunes, “Serenata,” “Blue Tango” and “Belle of the Ball,” were performed with just the right balance of schmaltz and precision by the orchestra. A contemporary addition to the program was a combination of two movements from John Williams’ most recent movie score, “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”
Breaking new ground with his talent, entertainer Rich Little demonstrated the effectiveness of movie music in highlights from films over the years. Little prefaced the scenes with brief explanations delivered from behind a lectern before stepping to the solo microphone to deliver excerpts from “An Affair To Remember” as Cary Grant and from “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” as William Holden, to name but a few.
One of the most memorable performances by a film actor in modern times is George C. Scott’s portrayal in “Patton.” Although acknowledged as one of the most brilliant of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s scores, it would have been interesting to hear Little’s interpretation expanded to include Patton’s introspective reflections on the isolation of the soldier in battle as well as his inspirational oration to the troops.
If Little’s first set was an entertaining experiment in progress, his performance in the second half of the evening fit as comfortably as Perry Como’s sweater. Accompanied by his musical arranger, Chuck Hoover on keyboards, Little took microphone in hand and decided to “mix it up” a bit, singing hits by popular male vocalists, the youngest being Neil Diamond.
But age didn’t matter. This trip down Memory Lane with Little singing bits of hits by Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and the never to be forgotten Rat Pack was interspersed with an easy sense of comic timing that had the audience enjoying the journey.
The orchestra preceded Little’s second act entrance with Richard Hayman’s comic “Pops Hoedown,” “Roses From the South,” a Strauss waltz, and Robert Russell Bennett’s lengthy arrangement of Richard Rodger’s “South Pacific.”
Rebecca Redshaw is a novelist and playwright who free-lances for the Post-Gazette.