|[Various]:||Broadway Show Tunes by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Lerner & Lowe, Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein, et al|
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Jan Horvath, soprano
Michael Maguire, tenor
Keith Butterbaugh, baritone
John DeMain, conductor
Presenting a fascinating overview of the past 70 years of American musical theater billed as "Bravo Broadway," the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a singing trio comprising soprano Jan Horvath, tenor Michael Maguire and baritone Keith Butterbaugh followed the baton (and the dancing feet!) of John DeMain at the Oscar Mayer Theater Saturday in a nostalgic but rowsing evening that brought a full house to its feet with shouts of appreciation and extended applause.
Though secure in their reputation as top-flight performers of conventional concert music, the MSO and DeMain probably felt a few misgivings about how the Madison-area audience might respond to a program like this if it were perceived as too popular in its orientation. I don't think they need to have been at all concerned. Broadway is a genre in itself, and the enormously gifted composers featured on the program -- Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Lerner and Lowe, Leonard Bernstein, and Rodgers and Hammerstein among them -- have left us a legacy of extraordinary songs and orchestral arrangements. This traditional fare stood in some contrast to more recent Broadway hits like "Les Miserables" and the "Phantom of the Opera," highlighting the rapid infusion into all genres of ideas that sum up our century.
The orchestral pieces clearly reveal that Porter and Kern were charting new directions, musically. For instance, the overture to Kern's "Showboat" is a first-rate piece. And the songs from Porter's "Anything Goes" and Bernstein's "West Side Story" show a combination of mirth and tenderness that is as irresistibly charming as it is essentially American. It may be that Lerner and Lowe's "My Fair Lady" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," "South Pacific" and "The King and I" are less exalted, however great the tunes are. But surely "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Bring Him Home" from Schoenberg's "Les Miserables" fully deserve our highest accolades as lyric theater, on purely musical grounds, and they wonderfully capture the conflicted Zeitgeist in which we live.
There was a bit of distance between the trio and audience at the outset, I think, which lent a certain cool quality to the beginning of the performance. This was certainly made worse by shoddy sound engineering, which did no great favors for what were basically good voices. The setting, too, two men in tuxedos and a woman in a formal, in the unflattering hard-edged glare of follow-spot lighting and in front of a massive symphonic ensemble, was at first rather stark. But this reserve completely vanished as the program reached its peak with "Les Mis" and wound up with the enormously successful "Phantom." By the end, the audience was completely engrossed and involved, and the encore of Webber's exhilerating "Love Changes Everything" had to be done twice before they would let the musicians call it a night. It was one to remember.
Isthmus, January, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson