Idina Menzel Sizzles with Pops

Doc Severinsen and Beatles at Tanglewood

By: - Jul 03, 2010

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There was a surprisingly thin turnout at Tangelwood for the evening of Pops which opens a sold out Fourth of July weekend with James Taylor and Carole King.

We budgeted extra time to get to the Maple Lot through the back road.

But were stunned when we sailed through Lenox. There was even plenty of parking.

We arrived early with time to spare. Where are 54,000 patrons anticipated this weekend in Lenox as  reported in the Berkshire Eagle. Last night the  traffic jam never happened.

All those visitors will arrive today and it will be a different story when we attend the Sunday evening Fourth of July performance.

Looking about at all those empty seats in the Shed, and at the sparsely settled lawn, we estimated a bit better than half a house.

Then again it wasn’t the most inspired evening of Pops.

In keeping with the theme of the 125th anniversary of Pops there was a tribute to past musical directors starting with Arthur Fiedler. The genial host and current conductor, Keith Lockhart, informed us that Fiedler held the position for 50 years. That’s a remarkable half century.

The tribute to Fiedler included  “National Emblem March” by Bagley, and “The Light Cavalry Overture” by von Suppe. Ho hum.

The first of three guest artists was Doc Severinsen for decades the master of a few bars leading the Tonight Show orchestra during the era of Johnny Carson. Back then Doc was known for wearing an outlandish new outfit every evening.

Not much has changed as he appeared in a sequined jacket over a floral shirt.

Except his chops which are not what they were. Perhaps they never were. After all how much talent did it take to play the theme song to Heeeeerrrresss Johnnnny.

He fumbled through “Ode to Doc” an eclectic arrangement of Beethoven-Reineke. He hit some high notes which pleased the crowd. Then he was terrifically gone. Bye Doc, have a nice day.

The program moved on to a lush rendering of arguably the most famous Tango “Jalousie” which back in the days of 78s was a huge hit. We were informed that Gade the composer was Danish. Go figure.

That was followed by a Pops standard and crowd pleaser “The Typewriter” by Anderson. Talk about dated. My computer keyboard is fairly silent. But I recall all those typewriters back in the day in the news room of the old Herald Traveler. Now and then you even heard somebody yell “Stop the Presses.” Print media just ain’t what it used to be. So this number brought a few tears to my eyes.

Michael Chertock was the pianist for another Pops standard Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Following intermission Lockhart introduced a tribute to John Williams who conducted the Pops from 1980 t0 1993. He returns to Tanglewood each season for his phenomenal Film Night as well as participating in Tanglewood on Parade. His appearances are always highlights of the program. It seemed odd to hear Lockhart conducting those film anthems by Williams.

Bringing us up to date on his own tenure as conductor since 1995, gosh has it been that long, Lockhart presented “Overture to Candide” by Bernstein.

The third guest artist of the evening was Idina Menzel who won a Tony for her role in Rent. She also starred in Wicked another Broadway musical.

This was her first appearance at Tanglewood although she made a recent debut with the Pops at Symphony Hall. She appeared to be genuinely thrilled to be on that stage. A number of times she tried to look through the lights out at the audience.

At the conclusion of her performance Lockhart correctly commented “Wow.” It was a stunner.

Our only complaint is that her appearance was too brief. What a truly magnificent singer. Man what pipes. She just knocks back her head and belts. Surely we will see more of her at Tanglewood.

It was amusing when she informed us that before being discovered off Broadway in Rent she had spent many years as a wedding singer. Astrid commented that she wondered just how many former brides now brag that she sang at their weddings.

Menzel thrilled the audience with "Life of the Party" and "Another Day" from Rent as well as "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.

How to follow that?

Well, with the Beatles. Lockhart introduced the sing along part of the evening. There were video projections of Beatles animations. He explained that this was the 21st century version of Mitch Miller’s follow the bouncing ball. The audience chimed in on tunes.

What fun.