Show tunes were the order of the evening Thursday as the Glendale Renaissance Orchestra continued its inaugural Pops season with "From Broadway to Hollywood — In Concert." The show was performed at the Alex Theatre and presented by New West Symphony and Glendale Arts.
Things started slowly with a rendition of "We Are Family" (from "The Birdcage") that lacked energy despite the efforts of the New West Pops Singers' lead vocalist Carmen Carter. Her voice was powerful and the orchestra played well, but the number failed to get toes tapping.
Any concern that this would set the tone for the entire performance was immediately dispelled when Broadway veterans Tobi Foster and Blake Ginther took the stage for an inspired duet of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story." Foster's beautiful soprano voice melded perfectly with Ginther's strong tenor tones. Ginther followed up with a marvelous version of "Maria" that showcased the strength and quality of his voice and did justice to the classic song.
Harmonica virtuoso Bernie Fields joined the orchestra for an amazing tribute to Henry Mancini. The orchestra absolutely nailed the "Peter Gunn Theme" before Fields joined them to perform one of the loveliest renditions of "Moon River" this reviewer has ever heard. This was no sloppy honky-tonk harmonica. The precision of the notes and smoothness of the tone generated by Fields elevated his instrument to another level.
Artistic Director/Conductor Steven Goldstein's orchestra was outstanding. The unconventional addition of rock band instruments (electric bass, drums, electric guitar, keyboards) to the traditional orchestra sections (strings, percussion, brass, woodwind, piano) provided a unique musical experience. As an ensemble they were flawless, and each section of the orchestra was given the chance to shine on its own at some point in the program.
The second half of the show was all about Lorna Luft. The author/singer/producer/actor and daughter of Judy Garland had a set that was a tribute to her mother, Broadway and Hollywood. The performance, however, was pure Vegas. If one word could describe her performance it would be "big." Another would be "fantastic."
Luft's first number was a lapel-grabbing rendition of "It's Today." She didn't let go of the lapels for the rest of her time on stage. From "Blue Skies," a medley of tunes from "Babes in Arms," a moving version of "The Man That Got Away" to a show-stopping "Rockabye," she held the audience in the palm of her hand.
Then came the topper: a medley of amazing Hollywood musical songs that were not nominated for Academy Awards. "Singin' in the Rain," "Hooray for Hollywood" and "New York, New York" highlighted the array of unforgettable songs that somehow escaped nomination.
Luft interspersed the medley with several amusing asides and was given a well-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of her set. She returned for an encore with "Carolina in the Morning" and received another standing ovation. The power of Luft's performance was so strong that the audience was spent. This led to a curious choice in the program: The show didn't end there.
Ginther, Blake and the rest of the orchestra closed with excellent versions of the Four Seasons' "Oh What a Night" from "Jersey Boys," "As Long As He Needs Me" from "Oliver" and "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King." They were good, but the show really should have ended with Luft.
Lance A. Wawer has been a freelance writer for 25 years for publications throughout Southern California.