Neither rain nor wind could keep the enthusiastic Raleigh Concert Band from giving a stellar performance of its Broadway tribute program, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," at the Rose Garden Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. The skies were dark on the way to the venue, but the smell of popcorn – as well as the bubbles blown by children – wafted over the crowd to set the stage for a fun, and surprisingly dry, evening out.
Lem Hardy directed some of the greatest hits from Broadway in this informal concert, and flutist-bassist-president Patty Pearce delivered program notes and tidbits about the successes of the musicals from which selections were chosen. Naturally, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" by Jule Styne, featured in Gypsy, was the opening work. After working through a couple of fazing issues between two halves of the band, the tune Hardy arranged for this band was perky as ever. Unfortunately, the front mic used for introducing the songs was left on for the first half of the concert, resulting in a treble-heavy sound unbalanced between woodwinds and brass.
"Selections from Chicago" came next, with music by Kander and Ebb arranged by Ricketts. The trumpet soloist that opened the piece with "All that Jazz" did great capturing the essence of nightclub jazz, as did the trombones a little later. The percussion was precise but much overshadowed by the overamplified woodwinds.
Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (Lion King) came next, with a much more gratifying brass presence.
"Dreamgirls," written by Krieger and Eyen and arranged by Jay Bocook, from the musical of the same name, had some good moments, and the energy in the band's playing helped gloss over any shaky moments. A medley from Mel Brooks' The Producers, again arranged by Ricketts, showed off the technical ability of the woodwinds and was a wonderful tribute to this quirky show. A few of the transitions between tunes were tenuous, but the arrangement itself was not very intuitive to begin with. The final reprise of "Springtime for Hitler" was an especially great moment for the trumpets and saxophones to show off their jazz styles.
After the intermission, the issue was resolved and the blend was much better, as was immediately apparent in Schonberg, Maltby, Jr., and Boublil's "The Heat is on in Saigon" (Miss Saigon), arranged by Bocook.
The balance issue, even though it was caused by unintentional overamplification, brings up the debate of the use of saxophone in a concert band: sometimes it doubles French horn parts, sometimes it harmonizes with trumpets, and sometimes it gets to shine as a jazz soloist. This kind of use requires incredible versatility, which was glimpsed in the second half especially in "Don't Rain on My Parade" (Funny Girl) and "Highlights from Jersey Boys."
"Beauty School Dropout" from Casey and Jacobs' Grease, arranged by Wasson, and George and Ira Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" (Girl Crazy) arranged by Dye, were excellent choices to showcase the versatility of the concert band, a medium overshadowed by mammoth string orchestras and jazz bands in the professional music world. The use of the timpani to play the "I Got Rhythm" melody was cleverly executed, as were the myriad solos, jazz breaks, and flourishes with which these two selections were laden.
As if that were not enough – which it wasn't! – Hardy obliged the audience by announcing an encore performance of "Seventy-Six Trombones" from The Music Man. From the marching cymbals and whistle at the opening to the flute and piccolo feature in the middle to the fanfares by the French horns, the performance was spot-on. However, all of this was somewhat buried beneath the lusty melodies of the trombones (but you certainly don't hear me complaining!).
This little-known band, a hidden treasure in the heart of Raleigh, can be found at the State Capitol for its Fourth of July Celebration and at Pullen Park on August 9 for Pops in the Park. Raleigh Little Theatre currently presents Blithe Spirit, which will continue through June 22. For details see our calendar.