On Sunday, the Brevard Philharmonic took the stage of the Porter Center concert hall under the baton of Donald Portnoy to deliver a program titled "Toe Tappers Encore: An Evening of Lerner and Loewe." Joining the Brevard Philharmonic was the Brevard High School Chorus, led by Mary Beth Shumate, and soprano Tina Milhorn Stallard, tenor Walter Cuttino, and bass-baritone Jacob Will. The ensembles collaborated in the performance of famous numbers from five different Lerner and Loewe musicals, including Camelot, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi, Brigadoon, and My Fair Lady.
The diversity of musicals that Portnoy chose to program for this concert created a wide range of musical styles and acting demands. Ranging from the Renaissance and the wild west to as sophisticated as 19th Century England, the music chosen reflected a wide variety of times and people, maintaining the interest of the audience and spanning the spectrum of appealing musical tastes.
Opening the concert was an overture quoting melodies from all the musicals to be highlighted. A bright cymbal crash began what was to be an afternoon of musical transport into various locations and time periods. Playful melodies melted into beautiful waltzes as a brief taste of the treats in store were given to the listeners' ears. Various percussive sounds emerged from the typical orchestral sound that one would expect at a classical performance. This concert contained an expanded percussion section, composed of instruments like the glockenspiel, chimes, tambourine, and slapstick. Furthermore, right in front of the conductor, between the violas and the violins, was an emerald green drumset, which added to the color of the music being played. The involvement of the percussion section in the ensemble was very prominent, and the performers did a beautiful job of balancing and blending with the ensemble so that no parts overpowered any given player.
Another aspect that made this concert an exciting change of pace for the Brevard Philharmonic was the role taken by the orchestra. Rather than the instrumental selections being the focus, it was actually the vocal works that were most prominent. The orchestra itself adopted the position of accompaniment rather than the main feature. Though orchestras are very familiar with playing for soloists, a microphone ensured the vocalists would be heard.
The first musical, Camelot, had selections "Camelot," "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" and "If Ever I Would Leave You." "Camelot" featured baritone Jacob Will, who did a remarkable job using his deep range to convey pride and admiration for the place the character, Arthur, lived. "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" is a laughter-inducing musical conversation, here between Jacob Will and Tina Milhorn Stallard, as Arthur and his betrothed Guinevere ponder what it must be like to be a commoner. Their musings on what simple folk must do turned into things like unsuccessfully trying to "whistle to pass the time," or awkwardly prancing about in a commoners' jig. Smiles were dispersed throughout the crowd by this number. The mood shifted from lightheartedness to thoughts of love as tenor Walter Cuttino sang "If Ever I Would Leave You." Cuttino's voice, laced with warm vibrato, soared over the ensemble, but at times, the sensitivity of the microphone made his voice almost piercing. However, he compensated for the sensitive microhpone, and the familiar velvet voice returned as he sang the love of Sir Lancelot to Guinevere.
The extremely refined quality of the vocalists and choir continued as the shows progressed; in the second half of the program, the work that took center-stage was My Fair Lady; represented by the most tunes of any of the other musicals showcased. Stallard adopted an exceptional Cockney accent as she portrayed Eliza Doolittle. Her attention to the small details of the character's personality was very evident as she switched from more serious roles to this carefree one. It was a delight to hear her performance of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" because her diction was precise, even with the accent, and she was very animated with her stage-presence. It was professional and fun. With her performance as the standard for the rest of the pieces featured from My Fair Lady, it was a little disappointing to not hear the same Cockney accent from Jacob Will's portrayal as Eliza's father when he sang "With a Little Bit of Luck," and "Get Me to the Church on Time." His voice was beautiful and his facial expressions were lively, but without the accent, some of the luster of this very familiar number was lost.
It was extremely difficult to refrain from singing along with the tunes!
The concert ended with a grand finale from the soloists and choir, accompanied by the orchestra, that rang out in the hall and received a much-deserved standing ovation. It was indeed quite the toe-tapping experience that received an abundance of praise.