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TV Reviews : PBS’ ‘Gift’ Offers Pleasant Surprises

There’s a bit of melody for almost every taste in PBS’ effervescent pledge drive special, “A Grand Night for Singing: Public Television’s Gift to You.

Hosted by a surprisingly bubbly and outgoing Tyne Daly, the nearly two-hour program, which is presented in four segments, focuses primarily on material from Broadway musicals and the operatic stage. The songs are handled by Daly and opera stars Sylvia McNair, Frederica von Stade, Jon Garrison and Kurt Ollmann, performing with the singers and musicians of the Indiana University School of Music.

Daly’s opening number, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” from “Gypsy,” provides immediate certification of her musical theater skills for those unaware of her stints on Broadway. Her other feature pieces--a duet with Garrison on “You’re Just in Love” and a showcase rendering of “Art Is Calling Me” from “The Enchantress"--further underscore Daly’s dependable musicianship, impressive dramatic abilities and believable storytelling.

The operatic segments are devoted to familiar, generally lightweight works, most of them done effectively. “Libiamo,” the drinking song from “La Traviata,” and Lehar’s “Merry Widow Waltz” receive splendidly staged ensemble interpretations. McNair’s soaring soprano is properly crystalline on “O mio babbino caro” from ‘Gianni Schicchi,” and Von Stade’s darker voice warmly embraces “Me voici dans son boudoir” from “Mignon.”

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The opera singers--with one exception--fare less well with standards and Broadway tunes. McNair’s low-keyed, beautifully understated reading of “What’ll I Do?” is one of the highlights of the entire program. But Ollmann’s “Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe” needs more steam, and Garrison’s “I Only Have Eyes for You” is nearly overwhelmed by some disastrous pitch problems.

Still, the production’s melodies are so timeless, their messages so disarming and upbeat, that by the time the final chorus of “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” rolls around, minor technical carps are swept aside by the easygoing pleasures of the music.

* “A Grand Night for Singing: Public Television’s Gift to You” airs at 8:30 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.


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