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Concert Review: Enthusiastic Hamlisch leads tribute to Lerner and Loewe

Friday, October 11, 2002

By Jane Vranish

The opening of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops series last night at Heinz Hall was one of those musical bouquets that only Marvin Hamlisch can arrange and still come out smelling like a rose. "The Music of Lerner and Loewe" love fest was a program so hot off the presses that only the shows were listed -- and a stellar collection they were in "Brigadoon," "Camelot," "Gigi" and "My Fair Lady."

Lerner and Loewe are among the top in instantly recognizable Broadway partnerships along with Rodgers and Hammerstein (or Hart) and George and Ira Gershwin. Maybe it's that elegant ribbon of phrasing in Loewe's music that winds around Lerner's tasteful lyrics. But it's quite possible that these songs have never sounded so charming and so stylish as in the expert hands of the Pops musicians.

Hamlisch was the conductor, chief cook and bottle washer (nifty piano solos and serviceable dance partner), cheerleader (the financial plight of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) and unabashed admirer of Lerner and Loewe and Broadway in general.

But he left the major portion of the singing to a trio of experienced singers. West Virginia's J. Mark McVey soared through songs like "If Ever I Would Leave You," while the casually handsome Brad Little charmingly wound his way through "Gigi," leaving Teri Hansen to be a staunchly pert Eliza Doolittle.

In addition, "Mr. Pittsburgh" Jeff Howell provided a colorful turn in "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" and 10-year-old Rocky Paterra proved to be a scene-stealer in "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." And a contingent from the Mendelssohn Choir provided a stirring choral accompaniment to selections like "The Night They Invented Champagne" from "Gigi," where the members took to the Heinz Hall aisles.

Although pound for pound few could rival the success of Lerner and Loewe, a number of songs were repeated in some fashion through the evening, particularly the crown jewel of the collection, "My Fair Lady." The Pops orchestra arrangement was so substantial and so stirring that Hansen, Little and McVey found themselves playing second fiddle with what amounted to reprises of songs like "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."

Still, given the lush melodies and off-the-cuff patter, it was all a "Loverly" evening for Broadway (and Hamlisch) fans.

Jane Vranish is a free-lance music reviewer.

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