A movie music/show tune concert midway through the summer season has become something of a tradition for the Grant Park Music Festival, a lighter break from the complexities of the 19th and 20th Century symphonic pieces that comprise so much of the season repertoire. While the program of this concert performed on July 12 and 13 featured familiar pop music, it was produced on a scale that made it a significant musical event. The Grant Park Orchestra was joined by the Grant Park Chorus – a not unprecedented teaming for a pop concert but a relatively rare one – and the chorus was given a significant role in the program. And while it’s the norm for the Festival to bring in two guest soloists from the Broadway’s pool of leading ladies and men, the Festival featured three for THE ENVELOPE PLEASE – a program themed to feature music that has won Oscar®, Tony®, or Grammy® awards.
The opening number reminded us of why we love movie music
Guest conductor Lawrence Loh energetically bounded onto the stage and leapt directly into a piece called Tribute to the Film Composer, arranged by John Williams, the composer with 51 Academy Award nominations to his name. The piece, originally performed at the 2002 Academy Awards, was a tantalizing medley of themes from 21 different films played in four minutes. True its title, all of the great film composers were represented along with the most memorable melodies. Beginning with As Time Goes By, we heard themes from legendary composers Max Steiner up through Randy Newman. Williams immodestly but justifiably included his own themes from STAR WARS, JAWS, and E.T., as the medley found its way to arguably the most famous movie theme of all, Tara’s Theme from GONE WITH THE WIND.
Maestro Loh followed with a greeting to the audience ready for an evening of much-loved music on a warm and dry Chicago summer night and gave a preview of what was in store for the program. Next up was the intricate and moving On Earth As It is in Heaven, by Ennio Morricone, from the film THE MISSION. The piece featured the Grant Park Chorus singing in counterpoint to the orchestra, giving a stirring reading suggestive of the film’s story of a Jesuit missionary in 18th Century South America.
Guest soloists from Broadway joined this Grant Park Music Festival concert
In this writer’s view, things lightened up considerably when the first of the three guest soloists took the stage. Doug LaBrecque, who has variously played both The Phantom and Raoul in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, led the orchestra and chorus with a sultry rendition of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine, the first demonstration of LaBrecque’ s versatile bari-tenor – powerful in his lower register and controlled in his upper range. LaBrecque then introduced mezzo-soprano Susan Egan as a “genuine Disney princess” (she was the original Belle in Broadway’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) who would first sing Colors of the Wind from POCOHANTAS and later duet with LaBrecque on A Whole New World from ALADDIN. The third guest soloist, soprano Madison Claire Parks (known for playing Luisa in the long-running revival of THE FANTASTICKS), joined LaBrecque and Egan for Cahn and Van Heusen’s Charleston rhythmed Thoroughly Modern Millie, originally featured in the 1967 movie with Julie Andrews and Carol Channing, and incorporated into the 2002 stage musical. The concert’s first half concluded with a lush and majestic medley from THE LION KING that featured the chorus and the soloists.
The concert’s second half was an eclectic mix of theater music
The orchestra and chorus were again the stars with the second half’s opening piece, Excerpts from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, arranged by John Williams from his scoring of the musical’s film version. It included an impressive violin solo by Grant Park Orchestra concertmaster Jeremy Black. Parks – who revealed her show business lineage as the granddaughter of film actor Larry Parks and stage and screen star Betty Garrett, next took center stage for a full demonstration of her lovely soprano on Rodgers and Hart’s Falling in Love with Love. Parks next joined up with Egan for a duet of “Defying Gravity,” from WICKED before turning over the stage to LaBrecque, who covered You Raise Me Up, for which Josh Groban earned a Grammy nomination in 2005.
The concert steered toward its finale with selections that were significant in the artists’ careers. Loh, after giving a brief tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, with whom Loh worked at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, led the orchestra in a medley from Hamlisch’s A CHORUS LINE and followed it with the title song from the film THE WAY WE WERE. Egan then sang a gutsy rendition of the title song from CABARET, noting the many times she had performed the number as Sally Bowles in the long-running Broadway revival of that musical. The final number on the announced program, was two selections from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Parks sang Think of Me, performed many times by her mother, Karen Culliver in the long-running Broadway show; before LaBrecque followed it with Music of the Night, the signature number of the character LaBrecque has played many times.
The entire cast returned for an encore of Climb Every Mountain from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, providing a majestic and uplifting conclusion to the two-hour and fifteen-minute concert.
This particular program will not be repeated but the Grant Park Symphony continues to play through August 17 this summer Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:30, and 7:30 Saturdays, mostly in Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park.
For more information check the Grant Park Music Festival website.
Photos by Norman Timonera
About the Author:
John Olson is an arts carnivore who is particularly a love of music, theatre and film. He studied piano, trombone and string bass into his college years, performing in bands and orchestras in high school and college, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While working as an advertising agency account manager, he began a second career as an arts journalist and is now principal of John Olson Communications, a marketing and public relations business serving arts and entertainment clients.