Aided by more intelligible sound, LaBelle returned in the second half with a curiously inconsistent set in which she twice lost her place in the lyrics. Yet she did deliver a convincing performance (reading off a lyric sheet) of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” and as an encore, really nailed “Over the Rainbow.”
As for John Mauceri, conductor/raconteur, he was in prime sardonic form in his opening monologue about the absurdities of Southern California life — particularly traffic — but less sharp in his programming. There was a strange pocket history of American popular music that was enterprising enough to include a fascinating, creepy, brilliant bit of Ellingtonian tone painting — the second movement from the suite “Night Creature” — and schlocky enough to include two lumbering arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
After the intermission, Mauceri’s main contribution was a quartet of undistinguished, saccharine Carmen Dragon arrangements of various chestnuts of Americana, during which many in the audience grew restless waiting for LaBelle.
The Bowl Orchestra played decently enough, but to quote Shostakovich, the material put up resistance.