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Hamlisch's concerts are a gas -- with a little help from the audience

This weekend at Kleinhans Music Hall, Marvin Hamlisch is presiding over an evening that pays tribute to the Great American Songbook. Go on, use the acronym. GAS.

Friday's concert really was a gas. Especially when he invited requests.

"On the Street Where You Live," someone yelled.

From way back in the balcony, a deep voice: "Memories!"

Hamlisch, at the piano, was getting his act together. "Someone To Watch," he told the Philharmonic, using Broadway shorthand.

But the crowd wouldn't be silent.

"The Way We Were!" someone shouted. Hamlisch turned at the mention of his own song. "Aren't you sweet?" he teased. Then he launched, quietly, into "Someone To Watch Over Me." Well, first he did a snip of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," to satisfy an earlier request.

Buffalo knows Hamlisch pretty well by now. We're used to his jokes, his style. But there's still something so entertaining about him as he lurches around stage announcing songs and singers, talking about shows and restaurants.

Hamlisch has two Broadway singers with him: Debbie Gravitte and Hugh Panaro. They played off each other well in "Everything You Can Do I Can Do Better." That's a Hamlisch standard, but it's fun, and the singers made the best of the song's subtleties.

Panaro sang a lovely "Bring Him Home," from "Les Mis." His handling of the initial octave leap was admirable, and he ended the song in a faultless falsetto. As Hamlisch bluntly told us, "If you don't cry in this song, get out of the theater."

Gravitte was all but drowned out by the BPO during the boisterous "Don't Rain On My Parade." "Bill," from "Show Boat," was a complete stunner. She poured spirit into the song, and it never sounded lovelier.

The orchestra performed a few medleys of their own, and they were a ton of fun. In a Jerome Kern set, Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden soloed on a sweet "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," one of the most beautiful melodies in jazz. The piece turned into a "Show Boat" tribute, with "Why Do I Love You?" and "Old Man River."

A medley from "A Chorus Line" sparkled, especially when Hamlisch, at the piano, launched into "What I Did For Love." What a moment!

You could listen to this kind of mad grab bag all night. Especially seeing that Hamlisch did a good job keeping us up to date on the Sabres' progress.

Sabres score updates were worked seamlessly into the show, and each was funnier than the last. Best was when Hamlisch ordered a drum roll from timpanist Jesse Kregal, and then offhandedly said: "For God's sake, the Sabres won, 4-3."

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

"The Great American Songbook," with conductor Marvin Hamlisch, on Friday and Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

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