Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Matthew Morrison Sings at Marvin Hamlisch’s Wake

Tamar Cerafici
Pittsburgh Pops!                                                                                                                        
Heinz Hall
September 30, 2012

It might seem the height of folly to review a concert at its last performance. But the Pittsburgh Pops concert series shows so much promise that it’s inevitable I should urge everyone to leave this site and become a subscriber. Go. NOW.

This was a remarkable opening to a fun season that includes a 50th anniversary tribute to the Beatles and the ever-popular Holiday Pops.

Marvin Hamlisch was supposed to conduct this concert. He had planned the entire season before he died in August. In his stead, Lucas Richman proved an admirable and capable substitute. The concert began with memories of Mr. Hamlisch and his relationship with the Pittsburgh Pops program. I wasn’t aware of the great impact that Marvin Hamlisch had on the cultural lives of Pittsburghers. (Remember I’m new to this venue.)
But when Lucas Richman sat down at the piano, lovingly placed in the “Marvin position” to conduct a soaring “The Way We Were,” I knew I was in for a special evening of tribute. This concert is the beginning of a long goodbye to Marvin Hamlisch. The PSO is going forward with the pops concert as Marvin planned with the stars he wanted, the arrangements he needed, and the orchestra members and audience that he loved so much.

Marvin Hamlisch conducting
I was surrounded by concertgoers who did have fond memories of Mr. Hamlisch at the podium. They described an engaging and utterly unpretentious entertainer and friend. When I told them I was writing a review for this magazine, all around me started to regale me with tales of Mr. Hamlisch and his contributions to the concerts.

One recounted Marvin’s habit of updating Steelers games from the conductor’s podium during Sunday afternoon programs.

Another told me about the original Hanukkah material Marvin created especially for the annual Holiday Pops programs.

Marvin would see a regular concertgoer in her traditional seat and stop the concert to say hello; he would make sure that the folks in the gallery were having as much fun as the patrons in the dress circle.
Their Marvin was not some Broadway Big shot who’d won an Emmy, a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize (the only one besides Richard Rogers). Their Marvin was someone who loves music, loves the theater, loves telling stories, and above all loves leaving people happier when they left the concert hall than when they came in.

(I have to add here that this is the coolest thing about living in Pittsburgh that is different from the four other places I’ve lived since 2009. People will talk to you. They will share themselves with you. They want you to know their story. I totally love that.)

But enough about Marvin and Pittsburghers; I was there to hear one of the orchestras that provided the soundtrack to my youth in the Intermountain West.

Matthew Morrison
The first half of the concert was a tribute to Marvin’s life and love of music. The overture to Funny Girl was on the program because Marvin would procure chocolate donuts for Barbra Streisand during rehearsals. Lucas Richman’s own composition, Romancing the Cinema, highlighted love songs from the great movies that Marvin loved. (A note to Richman: rather too many references to Titanic thank you very much, but I loved your arrangement of As Time Goes By.) And, since we are celebrating one of the great lights of modern American theater, why not throw in a little West Side Story? The PSO’s animated “Mambo” could have been a trite throwaway, but they performed it with passion and verve.

Oh wait! The guy from Glee! Mr. Shuester! That’s why we’re all here! That explains the bevy of teenagers and college students and the school buses lined up along Sixth Street.

Yes, Matthew Morrison was supposed to be the main attraction this afternoon. And he delivered. His program was part autobiography, part song and dance, and part motivational speech. Between standbys like “It Don’t Mean A Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “The Lady Is A Tramp,” we learned about Morrison’s introduction to musical theater. He described his own Glee Club experiences at the Orange County High School for the Arts with pretty decent riffs on some Duke Ellington pieces.  He highlighted his rise to fame on Broadway with medleys from “South Pacific” “West Side Story” and “A Little Night Music” (of course it was “Send in the Clowns”). His choice to join the cast of Glee was difficult because really all he wanted to do was be a song and dance man like Sammy Davis Jr. Then he went on to prove that he would’ve been a very good song and dance man instead of a washed-up Spanish teacher in Lima, OH. Very few of us will forget his moonwalk during “Ease On Down The Road.”

The great strength of his program, though, was his willingness to attribute his success to choices that other people made. While I liked Morrison’s lyrical tenor voice immensely, it was fun to watch him throw a little bit of Mr. Shuester into the mix. He told of a teacher who said “you have three Life Days where you realize that you have a chance to do the one thing that changes your life forever.” He reminded all of us that the world is full of choices, but when you do what you love and live your passion you realize that there never really was a choice to make. 
Tamar Cerafici is an environmental lawyer whose national practice includes nuclear power and sustainable development consulting. She is the author of “Dominate: How Lawyers Crush Their Competition (with these 4 Powerhouse Marketing Techniques),” and the founder of The-Barefoot-Barrister.com as well as LegalShoe, and The Lawyer’s New Clothes, new media channels on PositivelyPittsburghlivemagazine.com that teach lawyers how to build enterprises and find balance in their practices without selling their souls.

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