Musical fireworks are not unexpected when the Houston Symphony opens its summer season on the eve of Independence Day. But who could have guessed the explosive musical excitement would extend as well to the performance that capped the symphony’s 2004 summer schedule in The Woodlands?
Such was the case with the truly brilliant performance of Broadway star Davis Gaines when he joined the Houston Pops to close out the season with “The American Songbook” on a recent warm night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. The audience response was warm as well. Even before the concert began, there was delightful Broadway music and dancing on the pavilion plaza, compliments of the talented and energetic youngsters of the Act One Show Choir from Class Act Productions. Saint Luke’s Community Medical Center – The Woodlands, sponsored free lawn seating for the event, along with health assessments and informational activities. But best of all, the Houston Pops was on hand with a dazzling tribute to American popular music, and an equally dazzling singer in Gaines.
The orchestra began with a thrilling medley of Stephen Foster tunes. “My Old Kentucky Home” and “I Dream of Jeannie” were smooth and dreamy. “Beautiful Dreamer” was shimmering and blissful under the stately command of conductor, Michael Krajewski. The playful maestro had great fun as he joked with the audience about the current political scene in this presidential election year. The music could be playful as well, with “Camptown Ladies” masquerading briefly as the “William Tell Overture.” Meanwhile, pavilion technicians were fully in command, as audio was sheer perfection and the soloist was never over-amplified. Performance projection screens were in full operation giving the audience close-up looks at the musicians during numbers like the powerful and sweeping “Shenandoah,” performed with an elegant trumpet solo and a finish as delicate as the finest wine.
Enter Gaines as he played the dangerous game of opening with a Sinatra standard, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He made it very much his own, and with his powerful baritone voice and jazzy support from the orchestra, went on to a resounding and solid “Taking A Chance On Love.” Then, suddenly, he was gentle as a raindrop with a softly paced “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” and a “Tennessee Waltz” that dramatically demonstrated his immense vocal range. The “Tri-City Medley” featured a snazzy “Chicago,” a gentle “San Francisco,” and a soaring “New York, New York” that showed the singer’s vocal talent for having total control all the time.
The orchestra’s performance of Wendel’s “George M. Cohan Overture” had a zesty “Give My Regards to Broadway,” a tender “Mary,” a prancing “Harrigan,” a foot-tapping “Over There,” and a rousing finale of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “Grand Old Flag.” A brisk and breezy “Strike Up the Band” was followed by “A Tribute to Irving Berlin,” highlighted by a fun-filled “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” a richly romantic “Always,” a swinging “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” a bright “Blue Skies,” a sparkling “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” worthy of Astaire and Rogers, and a “No Business Like Show Business,” that would make Ethel Merman proud.
Then Gaines returned to the stage for a Sammy Cahn Medley that showed the piercing power of this Broadway star and the excellence of the orchestra. The medley included his mellow “Three Coins in a Fountain,” the optimistic “High Hopes,” a classy “Call Me Irresponsible,” and a soft, embracing “All the Way.” Next, Gaines brought tender romanticism to Jerry Herman’s “It only Takes A Moment,” from “Hello Dolly.” He showed his gift for musical comedy in Cole Porter’s witty “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” from “Kiss Me Kate.”
Closing with Oscar-winning songs, Gaines offered a “When You Wish Upon A Star” full of the original magic, and a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that was a last warm caress on a beautiful summer evening. The flawless encore of Kern’s “Old Man River” brought a standing ovation, and was a breathtaking demonstration of Gaines’ gift as a poet who speaks directly to the heart of his audience.
(The Courier 9.8.04)
(The Villager 9.9.04)