Orlando Philharmonic salutes musical-theater giants

We don’t often hear the great songs of Broadway with full orchestras; In fact, I was reading an article just the other day in which Broadway actors were gushing over the chance to sing with 20 musicians for a special engagement.

So to hear the greatness of Rodgers & Hammerstein played by the full Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra — that’s well over 20 musicians — provided a musical treat on Saturday afternoon.

Jeffery Redding, director of choral activities at the University of Central Florida, conducted the orchestra, along with the UCF Chorus — which was in tiptop shape at Steinmetz Hall for “Something Wonderful: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein.”

The concert was hosted by Oscar Andrew Hammerstein III, grandson of the famous lyricist, who reminded the audience that his grandfather faced some lean times, such as during the 1930s when “his sentimental mindset and operatic skill set were not what the public wanted at the time.”

Oscar Andrew Hammerstein III hosted "Something wonderful."

But then came the fabled partnership with composer Richard Rodgers and the public very much wanted such shows as “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel,” “The King & I” and “The Sound of Music” — all of which were ably showcased on Saturday.

There were a couple of bumps in the road — the female singers were at times over-miked while the chorus was occasionally too quiet in the mix — and it seemed to take the orchestra a moment or two to settle in for the opening.

But once that opening number broke into the glorious swells of “The Carousel Waltz,” all seemed right with the world.

Nicholas Rodriguez has numerous Broadway credits to his name.

Nicholas Rodriguez, with numerous Broadway credits to his name, got the singing started with a clear and simple rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” He has played the roles of Curly in “Oklahoma,” Billy in “Carousel” and Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” which certainly helps explain why his singing was coupled with strong acting that let you picture the songs’ actual scenes. from the musicals.

His “Soliloquy” from “Carousel” was riveting, even without the rest of the story line.

And he put his resonant baritone to emotional use on “Some Enchanted Evening” and a touching “Edelweiss,” which Hammerstein reminded us was the last song his grandfather ever wrote.

Among Ali Ewoldt's stage roles are Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" and Cosette in "Les Misérables."

With a twinkle in his eye and an endearing catch in his voice, Rodriguez duetted with Ali Ewoldt on a chipper “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and a more somber “If I Loved You.” Ewoldt, whose Broadway roles include Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera,” shone on her own in an elegant “Hello Young Lovers.”

Teri Hansen, another stage vet, led the crowd in a singalong of “My Favorite Things” and got appropriately corny as Kansas in August for “A Wonderful Guy.” She showed a more serious side in a formal “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” backed by the UCF Chorus.

Teri Hansen started her career in Florida.  Her Broadway debut was in "The Boys from Syracuse."

That chorus, by the way, showed a high degree of technical skill, with sharp and clear consonant cutoffs. And they and the orchestra breathed new life into “Do-Re-Mi,” the woodwind flourishes being a particular favorite.

Songs such as that may feel like musical-theater comfort food in today’s edgier times, but hearing the songs out of their shows’ context served as a reminder that Rodgers and Hammerstein could be edgy for their era, pushing the envelope forward with songs like the anti-racism “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” — “the song that made such a fuss,” as host Hammerstein put it — which directly challenged the 1940s audiences who had paid to hear it.

Hammerstein proclaimed his grandfather to be “a man with a big heart.” That was an attribute, as Saturday’s concert showed, for which the whole world can be grateful.

Follow me at facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at [email protected]. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: