The BPO's Valentine's night program, "Dancing With the Buffalo Stars," was perfect musical fare for this festive holiday -- light, sweet, funny and appealing.
The dancing "Buffalo stars" are four people in the public eye who are not used to having their fancy footwork in the spotlight: Rob Lucas of STAR 102.5-FM, Victoria Hong of WIVB Channel 4, former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello and Janet Snyder of WKSE-KISS 98.5-FM. Each was paired with a professional dancer and performed three times during the program.
Lucas, with Kathleen "Kat" Fenn, and Masiello, with Carrie Thompson, served mainly as backdrops while their partners executed the difficult moves, although both Lucas and Masiello had a chance to show off their solo steps and made their lifts and spins look effortless. Masiello and Thompson hammed up their interactions, with her portraying a fiery and teasing senorita during their Latin-themed dance.
During brief interviews after performances by conductor Robert Franz, Lucas confessed that he hadn't danced since his wedding reception, 20 years ago. Masiello quipped that when he met his wife, Kathleen, "she wouldn't go out with me unless I learned to dance; obviously I didn't learn that well." Both men were dapper throughout the night in black trousers and black or red vests with sparkling white shirts; later they appeared in tuxes.
Hong, paired with pro Bobby Wesner, and Snyder, with Thomas Radon, showed off their dance and gymnastics backgrounds, respectively, with some complicated steps and sequences. Hong, in a short sparkly frock with a full skirt, was breathless after her first dance, an energetic turn to Anderson's "Fiddle-Faddle." When Franz asked whether playing the triangle with the BPO or dancing in front of the orchestra was more difficult, she paused and then blurted out, "My lips are stuck to my teeth!" The quip brought the house down.
Snyder's first costume was a two-piece, bare-midriff spangled periwinkle dress reminiscent of the skin-showing outfits on the TV show "Dancing With the Stars." She completed plenty of high kicks and one floor-dusting spin in her partner's hands.
The orchestra and crowd both seemed to be enjoying the lighthearted nature of the competition, in which each celebrity dancer competed to win money for charity.
The BPO opened the program with Copland's "Hoe Down" from Rodeo, and Franz himself was a whirlwind on the podium, spinning and swooping, leading his musicians with his entire body.
As the dancers adjourned to, as the personable Franz said, "change and paint on new costumes," the BPO played Rodgers' "The Carousel Waltz," from "Carousel." This lush rendition of the familiar swooping tune was punctuated by precise, crystalline percussion and deep tuba tones, building to a cymbal-accented ending.
The second dance performances were Latin-themed. To "Lady of Spain," Lucas led Fenn through a spritely dance, followed by Snyder and Radon's smooth but energetic arrangement, which ended with Snyder spun into a graceful and compact floor pose.
When Hong and her partner walked to the side of the stage for their performance of "The Carioca," a buzz swept the room as people noticed Hong's extremely abbreviated dance skirt. In a truly charming bit of nonverbal communication, Hong put her knees together and gripped the hem in the front, tugging it downward as she leaned forward, an agonized look on her face. The crowd burst into laughter. Then she and Wesner executed a tempestuous, quick and difficult piece.
Masiello's partner, Thompson, vamped up her role, petulantly slapping at his hand when he placed it on her thigh and pouting as she spun.
After intermission, the BPO treated the crowd to a medley of Gershwin/Mancini tunes from "Shall We Dance," including "They All Laughed," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Shall We Dance," and "Slap That Bass." Each gave an opportunity for the musicians to shine.
In their third and final appearance on the stage, Masiello and Lucas and their partners took the stage during "Night and Day" from "The Gay Divorcee," while Hong and Snyder and their partners took turns in the spotlight during "Begin the Beguine."
Then, as the audience and the BPO musicians passed colored ballots to ushers to vote on the four celebrity dancers, Franz introduced "Sing Sing Sing," the Prima/Holcombe tune most identified with Benny Goodman's orchestra. "This is our chance to really dance on our instruments," Franz said, and the musicians clearly relished their solos -- saxophone, trumpet and clarinet, punctuated by repeated drum solos.
At the end of the night, Hong was chosen winner of the dance competition, winning a donation to the St. Adalbert Response to Love Center in Buffalo.
The night began with a moment of silence for the two members of Chuck Mangione's band who died Thursday night in the airplane crash in Clarence Center, and who were scheduled to play at Kleinhans Friday night in a concert that has been postponed. After a full minute of utter silence in the great hall, Franz led his musicians into their first notes.
Dancing With the Buffalo Stars
Featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall.