Many American orchestras are in trouble, and they seem to be dropping like flies from coast to coast. But, there are some that are actually thriving, and the Sarasota Orchestra is, fortunately, among those that are flourishing, even booming.
What is it doing that’s so right? Well, among other things, versatility seems to be the name of the game these days and the musicians in the Sarasota Orchestra realize that and are doing something about it.
From last week’s flash mob of musicians at the Sarasota Airport to their brilliant “Bravo Broadway” program at the Van Wezel, Sarasota Orchestra musicians and management are keeping up with the times and, best of all, they’re not dumbing down the music or their talents.
Broadway is America’s “classical” music, and the Sarasota Orchestra seems able to go from the intricacies of Prokofiev, Mozart and Holst to the difficulties (don’t think popular equals easy!) of Rodgers, Porter, Bernstein and Webber without splitting a string.
Audiences are lapping up the music. The recent “Bravo Broadway” program was not only sold out, it was so popular it was sold-out twice, and audiences came away with a sense that this orchestra just can’t stop the beat.
Susan Egan, a Broadway and cabaret star whose roles included Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and the title role in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie”; Lisa Vroman who appeared for many years as Christine in “Phantom” and Fantine and Cosette in “Les Miserables”; and Doug LaBrecque, a terrific “bari-tenor” who made just one of his marks in the Hal Prince revival of “Showboat,” were the three soloists, and they brought their excellent musical talents and infectious enthusiasm to a beautifully crafted program that Andrew Lane conducted.
It’s not easy to take well-known Broadway shows and perform excerpts, one after another, without eventually seeming like an Ed Sullivan show gone awry. But, aside from the overly amplified soloists (no problem hearing this show!), the length and depth of this festive program were just right.
The orchestra strutted its stuff in the solo spotlight with overtures from “Funny Girl,” “West Side Story” and “Chicago,” but, then, pivoted professionally into the role of solid accompanist for such memorable performances with the singers as a gorgeous medley from “Showboat,” an almost operatic “Vanilla Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me,” sung by Vroman, and, as an encore, a hilarious rendition by everyone of “The Age of Aquarius,” complete with hippy costumes and demeanor that the singers shared. Lane showed his own versatility and humor by joining in the fun.
The soloists sang, danced and changed costumes as easily as they changed singing styles, going from the operatic sounds of early music theater (Lerner and Loewe, Cole Porter, Bernstein and Sondheim, Harnick and Bok) to the rock-like rhythms and percussive, throbbing sounds of ABBA and Kander and Ebb, and the recitative, repetitive pseudo-operatic style of Webber.
Versatility and talent are among the hallmarks of great performers, and the Sarasota Orchestra seems able to do just about anything asked of it with grace, fervor and all that jazz!
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