January 31, 2011
By Mark Satola
Marvin Hamlisch, the award-winning movie and Broadway composer, was nearly upstaged Saturday night at Severance Hall -- by Marvin Hamlisch, the funny, self-effacing, storytelling raconteur with a stand-up comic's sense of timing and a winning way with a punch line.
Hamlisch was in town to present a benefit concert for the Cleveland Institute of Music with the CIM Orchestra and four of CIM's promising opera students. This being a concert led by Marvin Hamlisch, American popular song and evergreen show tunes were the order of the day.
In addition to conducting the CIM Orchestra, Hamlisch frequently took up a position at the piano and, in between numbers, regaled the audience at length with anecdotes about the music that were laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Saturday night's program was a straightforward tour of the American musical theater and Hollywood. Jerome Kern occupied a place of honor as the first composer to be considered, with a smoothly scored medley of some of his best-known tunes, including the oft-parodied "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." The sequence didn't really come to life, however, until it reached Kern's tunes for the 1927 hit "Show Boat."
Hamlisch's humor came to the fore as he played a medley of "Academy Award Losers" -- songs that, though they didn't take home a statuette, are nevertheless affixed in the constellation of popular hits, including one by him, "Nobody Does It Better," which he introduced with a ribald story about playing the freshly minted tune for Carly Simon while her husband (at the time, James Taylor) was away, informing her that the title was autobiographical.
Presenting popular song with an operatically trained voice is always a risky endeavor, and the four CIM opera students highlighted for the evening met the challenge with varying degrees of success.
Soprano Claire Connelly found the right balance between dulcet tones and footlight salesmanship in her delicate presentation of Jerome Kern's "Bill," an ode to an inexplicable love.
Oswaldo Iraheta, who recently made the transition from baritone to tenor, sprinted through "The Street Where You Live," from Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady." His sunny personality presages a vivid stage presence in his future, and he gets extra points for cheerfully enduring a mock-serious lecture from Hamlisch about how not to sing a popular song.
Elizabeth Tredent and Megan Hamm acquitted themselves well, though their presentations, respectively, of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "All the Things You Are," were more about beautiful singing than the narratives couched in the lyrics.Hamlisch rounded out his fast-paced program with a medley of tunes from his hit show "A Chorus Line," with its signature song, the indelible "One Singular Sensation." Throughout the evening, members of the CIM Orchestra proved their artistic flexibility, inhabiting the colorful orchestrations like old pros on a Hollywood soundstage.