After seeing a bunch of romantic pops concerts with Marvin Hamlisch, I'm not sure anymore that the world's most romantic three little words are "I love you."
I think they might be "J. Mark McVey."
The dapper Broadway tenor, who played Jean Valjean in "Les Mis" for 2,912 performances (that's the figure he gave Friday night, and I believe him), has joined Hamlisch, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's principal pops conductor, for probably a half-dozen concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. This weekend's could be the best yet.
McVey is in wonderful form. He soars through a bouquet of old standards as well as a few new pieces. We've heard him sing some of them before, but so what? He does them so magnificently, I'd hear the concert again tonight if I could.
His voice is especially enchanting in the high range. He shapes these challenging syllables with incredible sweetness, just a shade away from falsetto. "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Some Enchanted Evening" had a transcendent, unabashed loveliness.
McVey is so excellent that he tends to eclipse the female singer joining him on stage. But this weekend we strike it lucky in that department, too. Soprano Rebecca Luker, another Broadway veteran, joined him in "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," and actually held her own.
Buffalo alert: You can't beat that line, "Anything you can buy, I can buy cheaper," for local appeal. The song, presented with good screwball humor, was nonstop entertainment. Except for some foolery in the evening's second half involving a few local couples, Hamlisch kept the show moving.
And admit it, you'd feel cheated without a good dose of the pops maestro's dry, grouchy wit. When Luker tried to say that she didn't care if her husband gave her a Valentine's Day present because she didn't care for jewelry, Hamlisch reminded her: "It doesn't have to be jewelry. There's other stuff."
An especially romantic instrumental moment came with the great "Pas de deux" from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." Suzanne Thomas played the opening harp solo beautifully, and principal cellist Roman Mekinulov and associate concertmaster Amy Glidden poured passion into the following duet.
It was fun to see a very large group of middle school kids listening to the old-fashioned love songs. "You Are Love," the soaring duet from "Show Boat" in which McVey and Luker both excelled, marks the exact moment when operetta melted into musical.
It all repeats tonight at 8.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"He's Playing Our Song" with Marvin Hamlisch on Friday night in Kleinhans Music Hall. Another performance at 8 tonight.