American Pops Orchestra: Stairway to Paradise: A Gershwin Spectacular

| October 20, 2015

American Pops Orchestra

Stairway to Paradise: A Gershwin Spectacular

Lisner Auditorium, Washington, D.C., October 16, 2015

Review by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Christine-Ebersole-54Below-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212For anyone launching a new musical enterprise, the peerless music of George and Ira Gershwin is a wise choice. And so Maestro Luke Frazier’s American Pops Orchestra debuted with Stairway to Paradise: A Gershwin Spectacular, appropriately starting with “Strike Up the Band.” The ever-reliable diva, Christine Ebersole (pictured), was vocally front and center, lightly backed by Frazier’s National Broadway Chorus.

“Strike Up the Band” also featured the first of four appearances by dance couple Julia Freyer and Johnny Stellard. Choreography by Jason Sparks was disappointingly uninspired, a circumstance that also bedeviled many of the orchestra’s musical arrangements, contrary to Frazier’s intent of creating a fresh take on the Gershwin standards. While the offerings were entertaining, including “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “Shall We Dance,” only two numbers stood out. Variations on “Summertime” were inventive, with the exquisite violin artistry of Concert Master Henry Flory as a focal point. A slightly Latinized version of the finale, “Clap Yo’ Hands” was delightfully different, if not entirely rousing. As for the 14-strong National Broadway Chorus, their artistry was mostly unproven—their only brief contributions in the opening and closing numbers.

Frazier and director Nathan Brewer achieved a pleasant and balanced mix of dancing, orchestra pieces, and vocals in devising the program. The operatic soprano of Paige Faure delivered “Where’s the Boy, Here’s the Girl,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “But Not for Me” with technical proficiency. Nineteen-year-old Nick Ziobro, Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook Ambassador, proved poised and charming, singing “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” And, of course, there was Ebersole, who effortlessly commanded the stage with “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man That Got Away” (music: Harold Arlen), and “Clap Yo’ Hands,” providing bursts of needed musical sunshine throughout the evening.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, DC/Maryland/Virginia, DC/Maryland/Virginia Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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