The first concert Leonard Bernstein ever heard was by the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler , and the first professional orchestra he ever conducted was the Pops, back in 1940. Even after he became America's foremost classical music celebrity, he returned to conduct the Pops for his 25th and 50th Harvard class reunions.
Last night Keith Lockhart and the Pops performed an all-Bernstein salute, which focus ed on his five Broadway scores. Six of this summer's Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellows performed alongside prominent pros, and more than held their own.
It helped that the two sopranos had some of the best material. Soprano Jo Ellen Miller was perky, fresh, and vocally delightful in ``A Little Bit in Love" (from ``Wonderful Town") and the tender, affirmative ``Take Care of This House," from ``1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" (Bernstein's last Broadway show, which closed after only seven performances in 1976). Rachel Schutz brought down the house with ``Glitter and Be Gay" from ``Candide." She offered diamantine high notes, witty characterization, and giddily delirious coloratura. The men appeared mostly in ensemble, but all of them can sing and dance the conga, simultaneously -- Brendan Daly, Michael Hix, Matthew Lake, and Anthony P. McGlaun .
Tony-Award winning Christine Ebersole was lively, glamorous, and in good voice in ``I Can Cook Too" and ``Conga," and she contributed a fiery Anita to the ``Tonight Quintet" from ``West Side Story." But her showcase fell flat, a ``Duet for One" in which a single performer presents the conflicting feelings of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes on the occasion of the Hayes inauguration. The amplification was shabby, you couldn't make out the words, and she did herself no favors by being scorebound, trapped behind a music stand.
Matthew Morrison (``Hairspray" and ``The Light in the Piazza") is obviously a talented and charismatic guy, but he was not plausible as a gridiron god in ``Pass That Football," and ``Something's Coming" from ``West Side Story" lies uncomfortably high for his voice. Baritone Kurt Ollmann , one of the dwindling number of American singers championed by Bernstein who is still active, was suave in ``Lonely Town," drily sage as Pangloss from ``Candide." He overplayed his hand in James Buchanan's solo from ``1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," swirling a red-lined cape like a community-theatre Dracula.
Gary Griffin supplied fluent stage direction and David Krane organized the music. Lockhart once again demonstrated his amazing ability to pull complicated projects together on minimal rehearsal, and when he and the orchestra found an opportunity, they did pass that football and they scored.