A correction was made to this review on July 11, 2004.
A trio of television actors with Broadway credits on their resumes noted that the invariably easier road to fame is via the small screen — thousands of years of performances would be required to match the Nielsen ratings of a top 20 program. While not surprising, the observation gave this night of TV themes a greater historical heft, suggesting that music from Westerns, sitcoms and dramas are a form of Americana worth celebrating as art. And conductor John Mauceri, as is his wont, did a marvelous job separating the wheat from the chafe among the classics and obscurities. Ultimately, though, as we turn an ear toward current television themes, one wonders if the networks have sealed the vault on these 45- to 60-second classics.
Mauceri led the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra down a Main Street of yore in medleys of detective shows and Westerns, compositions by Earle Hagen (“Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Gomer Pyle,” “Mike Hammer,” etc.) and Jerry Goldsmith (“Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Room 222” and others). Hagen’s most enduring composition, the whistled theme to “The Andy Griffith Show,” wasn’t performed, though footage of Hagen explaining how that came together in five minutes was shown on the Bowl’s fine new big screens. Both Hagen, who attended, and Goldsmith, who did not, were celebrating birthdays.
There were modern touches to the evening. Luciano Michelini’s theme for HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was expertly matched with footage of classic comedy scenes; Danny Elfman’s theme to “The Simpsons” didn’t fare as well in synchronization, yet the composition holds up well in full orchestration; and an extended version of the “JAG” theme, conducted by composer Bruce Broughton, was pleasant though not particularly gripping.
The Smothers Brothers performed a modern piece that had the sort of bite that got them thrown off CBS in the 1960s. The timing of Tom and Dick is still razor sharp, and their routine, which begins as a story about flying and turns into an admonition about lying, ultimately makes a stinging point about the Bush administration.
First act closed with that trio of actors — Scott Bakula, Peter Gallagher and Sheryl Lee Ralph — flashing their vocal chops. Bakula pleaded for a revival of Jerry Herman’s “Milk and Honey” — and to keep him in mind when it’s cast — and Gallagher did a reasonable job on “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls.” Ralph pulled out her signature piece from “Dreamgirls,” while Bakula and Gallagher filled in humorously as the backup singers.
Second act centerpiece was a sing-along that had some tempo problems as a few themes (“All in the Family,” “Happy Days”) felt particularly slow. (Either that or “Love Boat” is very difficult to sing). The best Hollywood Bowl concerts, though, always seem to be the ones that are fun and relaxed, a mood Mauceri specializes in, and in that regard, nothing beats 9,000 people snapping their fingers to “The Addams Family.”