The Fireworks Finale at the Hollywood Bowl was a mixed brew of musical styles that seemed to say, “If you’re not a fan of that flavor, try this!” The program flew from Hollywood to Brazil, from Berlin to Bacharach, rarely settling on anything long enough to give the crowd complete satisfaction.
John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra started strongly with a combination of Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream” and John Williams’ rousing Olympic Fanfare and Theme From 1984, then began their Russians-in-Hollywood section with the Danse Russe from Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka.”
The second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 simultaneously benefited and suffered from an offbeat concept: John Mauceri and the orchestra played along with a computerized reproduction of Rachmaninoff’s 1919 piano recording. Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest pianists in history, and his rendition packs tremendous authority. Trouble is, the tempo shifts are markedly individual, and his playing sometimes caught the orchestra off guard. Mauceri kept keyboard and musicians together most of the time, but occasionally the two entities drifted off in different directions.
An overture of Irving Berlin songs featured lilting variations of “Blue Skies,” and then Russia yielded to the golden age of MGM when Debbie Reynolds sang “I’m Still Here” with witty, tailor-made autobiographical lyrics.
Reynolds’ impeccable comic timing was intact, though her vocals were undermined by severe laryngitis. As if responding to Louis B. Mayer’s rallying cry, “Knock ’em dead, Debbie, you’re a trouper,” she belted out “Singing in the Rain” and “Tammy.” Only during her Judy Garland tribute did she falter. Reynolds isn’t suited to the bitter bluesiness of “The Man That Got Away” or the shouting schmaltz of “Rock a Bye Your Baby.” “Get Happy,” from the Garland catalog, was much more engaging and natural to her personality.
Mauceri’s interpretation of “Mambo” from “West Side Story” captured the scorching Leonard Bernstein beat and fire. B.D. Wong, Broadway star of “M Butterfly” followed, making his Bowl singing debut. Wong opened with a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, “Half as Big as Life,” clearly uneasy with Bacharach’s eccentric, tricky rhythms. He was more at home handling “The Impossible Dream,” but another venture into Bacharach territory — “God Give Me Strength” written with Elvis Costello — defeated him with its wrenching, rangy intervals and falsetto chorus.
Pink Martini, a nine-member Latin band spotlighting China Forbes on vocals, furnished the most cohesive and entertaining segment of the concert. Every instrumentalist was first rate, but the band’s jewel is Forbes. She sang with richness and style, and her version of “Brazil” lifted an otherwise moderately enjoyable evening into a more exhilarating realm. The Bowl’s impressive display of fireworks was supposed to end the evening. It’s a measure of Forbes’ charisma that the audience demanded that she return for an encore after the visual feast was over.