[ NOTE: The PEOPLE’S CRITIC column below from August 17, 2000, is reprinted here in memory of brilliant Broadway and film composer, Marvin Hamlisch, who died today. ]
It was a warm night in Texas when renowned Broadway and motion picture composer, Marvin Hamlisch, took his place at the grand piano of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion for his recent concert there. Mopping his brow on arrival, Hamlisch, and the Houston Symphony that accompanied him, had the perfect recipe to cool things off: a medley of Cole Porter tunes that began with a pure, elegant, “Night and Day.” Suddenly, to the accompaniment of rich, orchestral accents, there emerged a Latin version of “You Do Something to Me,” that was full of rhythmic grace. This gave way to a crisp and jazzy “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” with piano and orchestra weaving in and out of each other’s artistry. A haunting violin solo was featured in “It’s Alright With Me,” and a shimmering return to “Night and Day” closed out the set. By this time, Mr. Hamlisch was drenched in his white dinner jacket. When fans shouted, “Take off your coat,” he declined, teasing that he didn’t want to leave the audience with the image of a “sweaty Jew in a shirt.” He urged that double applause be awarded the orchestra members because “…First of all, they are great, and secondly they have stamina!”
The program continued with selections from the Hamlisch soundtrack for “Sophie’s Choice.” It was a tender and embracing score, and beautifully displayed the extraordinary talents of HSO. Next on the bill was a tribute to Richard Rodgers. It included a sumptuous and exotic “Bali Ha’i,” (under rose-colored spotlights), an “Oklahoma” that was bursting with joyful energy, a “Lady is a Tramp” full of bounce, and a soft, caressing “With a Song in My Heart.” Handsome tuxedoed soloist, Steven Leahy, gave the audience more Rodgers hits beginning with a smooth, almost operatic rendition of “Hello Young Lovers.” He followed that with a delightful “It Might As Well Be Spring,” that was perfectly controlled. With swinging backup from the orchestra, Leahy delivered a foot tapping, high energy “This Can’t Be Love.” Then, in a sudden downshift, he offered a gentle and tender “Some Enchanted Evening,” which rose to such heights that it caused unfortunate distortion from the microphone. Audio problems continued as Leahy, never the less, gave a resounding, and well-received performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, “All I Ask of You,” from Phantom of the Opera.
Then followed a comic segment in which I unexpectedly played a part. Hamlisch asked the audience to call out song title suggestions so that he might select one to use in composing a new tune from the stage. Having watched him suffer in the Houston heat, I violated the traditional critic’s low profile, and called out: “Houston Summer Night.” The composer wasted no time in taking my idea to the keyboard, where he quickly put together a forgettable, but witty lyric, that closed with the line: “How I hate to concertise when the Fahrenheit is 1-0-4!” The audience roared with laughter.
Better music was found in the subsequent Jerome Kern medley. Among the sparkling highlights were “The Song Is You,” “They Didn’t Believe Me,” “I Hear Music,” and a Showboat collection that featured one of the best versions of “Old Man River” I have ever heard. Hamlisch tipped his hat to Barbra Streisand (he was her rehearsal pianist when she was on Broadway in Funny Girl) as he performed “People,” and “The Way We Were.”
The highpoint of Act II was the composer’s performance of “…the Overture that A Chorus Line would have had, if it had had an overture.” It seemed to contain all the wonderful songs from Mr. Hamlisch’s Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway show. I was especially moved as I listened to the beautiful “What I Did For Love,” and recalled how, a quarter of a century ago, many of the sixth grade girls in my charge would cry whenever we rehearsed the touching song for our graduation performance. I think I have finally caught up with their sentimentality.