Normally Rodgers & Hammerstein Night at Hollywood Bowl is a signal for everyone to go on automatic pilot, as the Los Angeles Philharmonic listlessly cranks out the big tunes for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. But this year's edition reached for something extra--no Master Chorale, a pops conductor (Erich Kunzel) who knows and apparently enjoys his business, and two bona-fide Broadway belters, Mandy Patinkin and Barbara Cook.
The result was a mostly idiomatic, sometimes eccentric Richard Rodgers concert, with some side trips into Harold Arlen, Stephen Sondheim, Harry Warren and other American melodists.
Much of the eccentricity was provided by Patinkin, who, in his Bowl debut, hustled on stage in a black T-shirt, baggy black pants and sneakers, looking as if he was going to clean out his garage. Somewhere along the line, this hugely gifted singer/actor has developed a bad case of histrionics--yelping, shrieking, overacting, overemoting, going over the top even in "Over the Rainbow."
Perhaps Patinkin thought he had to ham it up before such a large audience, reportedly 16,243 strong on Friday (and 17,913 on Saturday). Yet only when he brought himself under control ("Younger Than Springtime," "Bein' Green") did he remind us of the Patinkin who was so emotionally affecting in "Sunday in the Park With George" on Broadway.
For her part, Cook could teach Patinkin a few things about dramatic and dynamic control, interpreting "Mister Snow" and "A Wonderful Guy" beautifully, giving Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" the right amount of urbane longing. At the close, she and Patinkin ventured "Getting to Know You" and "People Will Say We're in Love" together, marred only by some silly Patinkin scatting in the former.
Elsewhere, Kunzel and the solid-sounding Philharmonic prefaced each half of the program with an agreeable mix of Rodgers tunes, as if to whet the appetite.