BSO SuperPops returns to fabulous '50s

Appropriately, given the prominent TV references, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra opens its 2012-2013 SuperPops season this weekend with a rerun — a program called "The Golden Age of Black and White."

This celebration of 1950s television and more first "aired" in 2006 and proved to be a vibrant, smoothly crafted example of the productions created by the Symphonic Pops Consortium, founded in Indianapolis by BSO principal pops conductor Jack Everly.

The show's return promises an equally refreshing dip into the past. Most of the same, vibrant guest artists will be back. An added novelty this time is a photo booth in the lobby on Friday where audience members can have goofy shots taken — in black-and-white, of course.

"Doing research for this program was a lot of fun," Everly said. "The '50s is the decade America and television grew up together. When television started, networks were desperate for products, so they turned to popular radio shows from the 1940s — 'Jack Benny,' 'Burns and Allen,' 'Your Hit Parade.' And they launched game shows, so we reference that, too."

Theme music from many of those shows is incorporated into the BSO program. Everly, now in his 10th season at the helm of BSO pops, has written two colorful arrangements that function something like a remote control clicker.

"A television medley is hysterical because of what it does to an audience," the conductor said. "You can hear them identifying each show. The public has such an awareness of this decade, whether they actually lived through it or not."

One of the guest artists in "The Golden Age of Black and White," seasoned Broadway and off-Broadway musical theater performer Karen Murphy, gives a nod to other early TV characters.

"Karen is one of the finest torch singers around," Everly said. "She does a sketch that recalls all the Donna Reed, June Cleaver types of that era. Then — bang — a more serious moment. She sings 'Cry Me a River.' You learn a lot about a true '50s housewife from that. The audience doesn't see it coming."

Well, maybe now.

Another guest artist, Kirsten Scott, whose credits include the recent Kennedy Center-Broadway revival of "Follies," will be showcased with Murphy in a medley that recalls a big element of '50s pop culture.

"The big-band era had featured female singers, but that really developed into its own thing in the 1950s," Everly said. "Karen and Kirsten offer hits by the great female singers, like Doris Day, Patti Page, Teresa Brewer and Lena Horne."

It was also a heyday for guy groups, and that gets covered, too, with the help of Chapter 6, a vocal sextet usually heard in a cappella settings.

"Their lead vocal arranger, Mark Grizzard, didn't know about groups like the Four Aces and hit songs like 'Three Coins in a Fountain' or 'Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.' It was fun for him to discover all of that, and fun for me to arrange for them."

Indelible instrumental hits from that decade turn up in the show as well, one of them in the original Percy Faith arrangement — Theme from 'A Summer Place,' the only instrumental recording to spend nine weeks at No. 1 on the charts.

"When we perform it, you get a palpable sense of what that music does for people," Everly said. "It's like that throughout the show. There's a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. It's fun to go back to relive things we loved. It's comforting, especially in this day and age. And, boy, do we need some comforting."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

If you go

The BSO presents "The Golden Age of Black and White" at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $28 to $63. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

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