As the summer heat and a sense of nostalgia permeated the air, the Hollywood Bowl kicked off its 87th season Friday night with a stirring, fireworks-enlivened tribute to three new inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. All -- flutist James Galway, singer-guitarist B.B. King and singer-dancer-actress Liza Minnelli -- were present and ready to perform.
For more than three decades, Galway’s playing has been crossing classical music, dipping into jazz and bringing traditional Celtic sounds to mass audiences; King is a singing, guitar-playing icon of the blues and the namesake for a chain of music nightclubs; and Minnelli, the offspring of illustrious showbiz lineage, has starred on stage and recordings, in films, television and beyond. Further enhancing the evening, guest star Duane Eddy, the veteran rock guitarist, was cranked up and ready to recall his late-'50s hit “Rebel Rouser.”
The performance opened with a fiery enthusiasm, as Thomas Wilkins -- beginning his first season as the principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra -- led the ensemble in a spirited romp through Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture.”
Galway’s set followed -- a characteristic display of all the qualities that have made him a cross-genre favorite. Over the years, he has been as entertaining and outgoing with his between-numbers commentaries as he has been focused and imaginative with his playing.
This performance was no exception, with Galway’s chatty exchanges (including the introduction of his elegant, flute-playing wife, Jeanne Galway) alternating with selections reaching from high-spirited Mozart to the ultimate Irish tune, “Danny Boy.” And it was on the latter piece that Galway’s most magical qualities were placed front and center -- his capacity to subtly recall the poignancy of the words with his gorgeous tone, gentle phrasing and emotion-triggering melodic ornamentation. Climaxing the segment, Galway was joined by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra L.A.
King, at 82, seemed a bit uncertain at the start of his program. But the vitality that has energized him for more than 15,000 performances soon clicked into place, and both King and his signature guitar, Lucille, were soon in action. Singing “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “The Thrill Is Gone” and “How Blue Can You Get?” he brought the blues alive, bending notes, emphasizing each sardonic twist and turn of the lyrics, with the charisma, wit and imagination that have made him a legend.
The first thing Minnelli said when she picked up her microphone was, “This is maybe the best night of my life” -- which is a pretty impressive statement, given the many colorful nights of her life. She added that she first visited the Bowl when she was 4, in the company of her parents, Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli. And that quality of nostalgia dominated her program, much of which was devoted to the music of Kay Thompson that Minnelli has been exploring in her recent performances.
The gifted Thompson -- a singer, writer, composer and actress -- was Minnelli’s godmother and virtual surrogate mother after Garland’s death, and it was understandable that Minnelli would honor her in the performance. She did so with a version of Thompson’s nightclub act, accompanied by four male singer-dancers simulating the Williams Brothers in the sort of entertainment one might have seen at Ciro’s in 1948.
Typical for one of her programs, there was a portion of the audience hyperventilating at every high note and dramatic gesture at least as much as Minnelli was. But the generally tepid response to the Thompson segment suggested that -- in a performance celebrating an artist’s overall career accomplishments -- it would have been good to hear a selection of material reaching beyond “Cabaret” and “New York, New York,” both presented in the inimitable, break-it-up Minnelli style.
The climax of the evening was appropriately spunky, with the honorees, Eddy and the Bowl orchestra under Wilkins joining together for a fireworks-enhanced romp through Eddy’s Grammy-winning version of Henry Mancini’s theme from “Peter Gunn.”