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Jerry Herman tribute raises the rafters of Kleinhans

Jerry Herman is alive and well and living in Miami. That was just one great thing the audience learned Oct. 19, as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra gave the first of two concerts celebrating the work of the great Broadway composer.

Herman is 86, and has every reason to be proud of his decades' worth of achievements. The songs from his shows shine.

They shine particularly, I had to think, in this revue at Kleinhans Music Hall. Guest conductor Todd Craven presided, along with four -- four -- star vocalists. I can't remember a show like this, where you had four soloists, all taking turns in the spotlight. There were only two instrumentals.

The soloists were all pros with great resumes. Debbie Gravitte has been here several times, starting with Marvin Hamlisch, when Hamlisch was our principal pops conductor. Klea Blackhurst, Scott Coulter and Ron Raines joined her in a nonstop process of bringing down the house.

Raines' credentials are especially alluring. He starred as villain Alan Spaulding on the soap opera "Guiding Light." His TV fans will have fun seeing his tender side.

Sometimes, as in "It's Today" and "Mame," the four raised the roof together, their voices beautifully balanced. Between, they stepped into character and made their individual songs into mini-dramas. Gravitte was very affecting in "Time Heals Everything," from "Mack and Mabel," and in "If He Walked Into My Life." Coulter put his own suave spin on "Hello, Dolly."

The debonair Raines could make you tear up in the beautiful "I Won't Send Roses," the repressed love song from "Mack and Mabel." Gravitte joined him in that song, and your heart went out to both of them. Blackhurst, who had a fine sassy personality, was especially convincing as the waitress who becomes a movie star in "Mack and Mabel." As she sang "Look What Happened to Mabel," you could picture her character's amazement, seeing herself on the big screen for the first time.

You couldn't always catch all the words, which could be a bit of a problem because the show includes some unfamiliar songs. But the singers did a great job of explaining the songs' context, drawing you in and making things easier. We heard about the history of Herman's myriad shows, starting with "Milk and Honey." And a ton of trivia, dished out with aplomb.

The BPO created a glamorous musical backdrop, with just enough glitter. The musicians should be commended for following the singers so seamlessly. Having played piano for my high-school production of "Mame," I can say with first-hand knowledge that these quirky songs aren't easy to pull off.

Arrangements were beyond entertaining. This show must hold the record for number of occasions on which a song went up a key -- or two or three keys. It felt several times as if we were going to go through the roof.

The only time things bogged down was near the start of the second half when the singers broke to speak, at length, about how the concert was sponsored by ASCAP, and about education, and workshops they had just given at Niagara University. The lull was forgiven, though, when they produced a quartet of singers from Niagara Universtiy, who gave a charming performance of "With You On My Arm," from "La Cage Aux Folles."

All in all, it was great fun, and a fine, comprehensive tribute to Herman. We even got to hear the master's voice at one point, on recording. And his face gazed down benevolently from a screen at the end of the show, to an uncompromising rendition of "Before the Parade Passes By."

REVIEW

BPO Pops

The Broadway Legacy Concert tribute to Jerry Herman, Oct. 19 and 8 p.m. Oct. 20 in Kleinhans Music Hall. Visit bpo.org.

 

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