FROM BROADWAY WITH LOVE
WHAT: Concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest conductor John McDaniel
WHEN: Tonight at 7:30 and Saturday at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Kleinhans Music Hall
Even on a bleak February day, a chat with John McDaniel can raise the temperature a few crucial degrees. With just a few words, the conductor manages to send warmth and good feelings radiating over the phone lines. That's why, when McDaniel appears tonight and Saturday to lead the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in a program called "From Broadway With Love," love is sure to be in the air.
McDaniel, who leads the band on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and did the arrangements for the Broadway revival of "Annie Get Your Gun," fairly glows when he talks about show business. "There really is something to the great songs of the '50s and '60s," he says.
Back then, he points out, Broadway songs were known to everyone. "It's interesting how that used to be the pop music of the day," he says. " "Bells are Ringing,' "Just in Time,' "The Party's Over' - these are songs that came into the top 40. This doesn't happen much anymore. "Beauty and the Beast' was covered by Celine Dion. But that's a rare case these days."
For his BPO concert, McDaniel will offer a bouquet of standards like "People Will Say We're In Love," "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Tonight" from "West Side Story."
He'll also throw in a medley from "Annie Get Your Gun," his forte these days. "It's one of my favorite scores of all time. I love that score. It's amazing. It's full of songs everyone knows, wonderful love songs."
But McDaniel has struck a balance between old and new Broadway. With enthusiasm that extends through "Rent" and "Aspects of Love," he has sneaked in a few showstoppers from recent Broadway history. We'll be hearing excerpts from Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" and "Sweeney Todd" (the lovely ballad "Not While I'm Around"). Andrew Lloyd Webber is represented by "Unexpected Song."
Two fine singers will bring the lyrics to life: Howard McGillen, who has starred in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway and is a good friend of McDaniel's; and Anne Runolfsson, who besides enjoying an impressive concert career sings the opening jingle on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."
A Sweetheart's Dance will follow afterward in the Mary Seaton Room and will feature local jazz singer Mary Stahl. McDaniel worked with Stahl last year at the Holiday Pops concert, and hasn't forgotten her. "I like her honesty," he says. "I like that she is who she is. She doesn't try to put anything on. She just comes out and she's just Mary."
And speaking of someone just being himself, count on McDaniel, at some point in the evening, to do a little piano playing.
Recently, he has initiated a number of concerts in which, as he puts it, "I sing, and play, in smaller venues, in 700-seat theaters, as opposed to 2,500-seat theaters. I love that connection to the audience," he explains. "I do a lot of talking, about working with Rosie and Broadway."
McDaniel's mother was a piano teacher, and he grew up at the keyboard. "There was music in my house from when I was born. I've been playing since I was 5," he says.
Last year, he recorded a CD called "John McDaniel at the Piano," which showcases his simple, immediately accessible style. "I'm playing kind of from my ear," he says, with typical sunny informality. "I think people do respond to that."
And he can't help adding, with a nod to "Annie Get Your Gun": "I'm doing what comes naturally."