Who ever would have thought that the Beauty and Gaston would make sweet music together?
But there they were at the Hollywood Bowl over the weekend: Paige O'Hara and Richard White, the actors who provided the voices for the beautiful bookworm and the handsome lout in Disney's "The Beauty and the Beast."
They weren't the only attraction. The original "Miss Saigon," Lea Salonga, and pop crooner Peabo Bryson were also on hand as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led by John Mauceri, saluted the work of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
But Salonga and Bryson were in subsidiary roles, entering the stage only after intermission and singing only two numbers. While "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed" from "The King and I" are pretty tunes, they were hardly great showcases for Salonga or Bryson. Bryson in particular looked and sounded reined-in.
O'Hara and White had a lot more to do. In the first half of the program, primarily devoted to Rodgers' and Hammerstein's work with other partners, White sang three solos, O'Hara two, and they united for a lustrous "All the Things You Are."
A few words were lost in O'Hara's rendition of "Johnny One-Note," which was a bit rushed by conductor Mauceri. But every one of Lorenz Hart's lyrics was audible in the evening's wittiest number, "To Keep My Love Alive," and O'Hara's winsome soprano was an ideal comic counterpoint to the somewhat deranged sentiments expressed by a renowned husband-killer.
White's rich baritone was almost too formal for the gliding melody of "I Could Write a Book." His rendition of "Lover, Come Back to Me" served primarily to illustrate the pedestrian quality of Sigmund Romberg's melodies, compared to the work of Rodgers and Jerome Kern. It was in Kern's "The Song Is You" that White began to shine.
After intermission, in "The King and I" sequence, White and O'Hara came alive as actors as well as singers, speaking snippets of dialogue (in "Siamese" and English accents, respectively), moving out from behind the standing microphone, and even concluding the program with an affirmative answer to the question posed in "Shall We Dance?," waltzing around the narrow lip of the stage.
Watching them dance, and seeing them joined by a large chorus and a string of dancing "Siamese" children for an earlier number, brought home the realization of how much more satisfying it would be to see a fully staged "King and I" instead of this concert version. But that would require the orchestra to go back into a pit, of course, thereby defeating the primary purpose of this first concert of the season for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
The orchestra took advantage of its position in center stage with several all-orchestral selections, including the overtures to "On Your Toes," "Show Boat" and "Oklahoma!," plus marches from "Ghost Town" and "The King and I." Also, befitting what Mauceri described as the first public performance of the film orchestrations from "The King and I," the orchestra played the famous 20th Century Fox fanfare that was heard at the beginning of the movie.
The full sound of these orchestrations did warrant more than a pit band, and the ensemble was in fine form. Mauceri's spoken program notes provided a number of amusing grace notes to the evening's entertainment.
Attendance: 13,987 on Friday, 17,249 on Saturday.