Conductor John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra inaugurated their second season at the Hollywood Bowl Friday with an all-star tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was an auspicious start to the orchestra’s sophomore year, and showed a large audience the capabilities of a beauty and a beast.
Paige O’Hara and Richard White (the voices of “Belle” and “Gaston” in Disney’s animated feature “Beauty and the Beast”) offered a variety of songs in the first half of the program, then were joined by Lea Solanga (the original “Miss Saigon”), and R&B vocalist Peabo Bryson, in a variety of selections from “The King and I.”
The musical arrangements for “The King and I,” however, were not taken from the 1951 stage version. In fact, according to Mauceri, who spoke often and comfortably from the stage, the evening marked a premiere: the first live performance of the orchestrations used for the 1956 20th Century Fox film version, arranged by Edward B. Powell, Gus Levene, Bernard Mayers and Robert Russell Bennett. Throughout the evening, the orchestra under Mauceri’s direction sounded fresh and dedicated to making a good impression.
Still, it was O’Hara who was the belle of this ball. Early on, she charmed the audience with her up-beat, brassy version of “Johnny One Note” (from “Babes in Arms”), and a witty, perfectly enunciated rendition of “To Keep My Love Alive” (from “Connecticut Yankee”).
In duets, her brightly toned voice blended well with White’s full-voiced baritone, particularly in the interweaving melodies and harmonies of “Small Hotel,” (from “On Your Toes”), and “All the Things You Are,” (from “Very Warm for May”).
But the “King and I” selections stole the show, beginning appropriately with trumpets heralding the Fox fanfare, followed by film’s exotically toned “Main Title” music. Then O’Hara, looking resplendent in a billowing emerald-green gown (reminiscent of the ones worn by Deborah Kerr in the film), set the mood with a gay, lilting version of “Whistle a Happy Tune.”
Singing in a precise English accent she made the governess/teacher Anna Leonowens come alive, offering a beautifully phrased, tender version of “Hello, Young Lovers.”
White (sounding now a good deal like Yul Brynner) clearly enjoyed himself in the emotional exaggerations of “Puzzlement,” while Salonga and Bryson offered melodious duet versions of “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed.”
“Getting to Know You” was the evening’s big production number, with a large chorus of children and a troupe of brightly clad Korean dancers. Show wrapped with “Shall We Dance.”