It’s not every day that Tommy Lasorda appears on the same program as Aaron Copland, but that was the case at this year’s Hollywood Bowl July 4th Spectacular, “A Ball at the Bowl.” Celebrating not just Independence Day but the Dodgers’ 50th anniversary in Los Angeles, the evening perfectly mixed heartfelt corniness and sober reflection. It was obvious it was not going to be a typical night at the Bowl when the LA Phil traded their usual formalwear for Dodger jerseys.
The evening started off seriously, with the Phil, conducted with a steady hand by the boyish Rob Fisher, taking on John Williams’ march from his score for “Midway,” which Fisher explained was included because it celebrated an American military victory. (It sounds like a more martial version of “Star Wars”). It was followed by Michael Torke’s “Javelin,” written for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and played in honor of his year’s games, and Copland’s “Variations on a Shaker Melody (Simple Gifts)” in which Fisher gently moved the orchestra from the quietly sturdy theme to a heroic finish.
As Fisher explained, baseball is the perfect game for Los Angeles: “It’s played in the sun, sometimes throws you a curveball, and everyone’s home before the seventh inning.” Singer Brian Childers kicked off the baseball portion of the program with “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame,” the song played before every Dodger broadcast. He also brought the necessary manic energy to Danny Kaye’s “D-O-D-G-E-R-S (Oh, Really, No O’Malley!),” an antic retelling of a Dodger-Giant game.
A different game was the focus of “Gibby at the Bat,” with legendary Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully (on tape, even through he was in attendance — the evening’s one disappointment) giving a typically stirring play-by-play of Kirk Gibson’s heroic, game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, underscored by the Phil playing classic Americana, including “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight.” Lasorda brought his trademark gruff enthusiasm to the stage as he led the crowd in “Take Me Out To the Ball Game,” along with Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea Hefley. The orchestra took the program to intermission with a lively reading of “Gershwin’s “Strike Up The Band!”
Second half of the show was a little more low-key, as if it settled down into a pitcher’s duel. It opened with a suite from James Horner’s score for “Field of Dreams,” which was accompanied by a film tribute to the Dodgers’ history. It concluded with the introduction of about a dozen former players, most notably Ron Cey, Tommy Davis and Maury Wills. Stephen Flaherty’s songs from the musical version of E, L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime,” was a reminder of the simpler time when baseball truly was the national pastime.
It made for a fine introduction to Randy Newman, whose songs are often informed by sounds of that era. He stormed through “I Love L.A.,” his ambivalent love letter to his hometown, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and “Losing You,” the latter a melancholy reminiscence (from his upcoming album “Harps and Angels”) before taking his place at the podium to lead the Philharmonic in a suite from his score to “The Natural,” which climaxed with a small fireworks display, echoing movie’s climactic scene.
But that was a teaser for the pyrotechnics that accompanied the medley of John Phillip Sousa. Pinwheels spun, sparks flew, flames cackled, rockets arced through the sky, the words “liberty” and “freedom” were lit up as the Phil bounded it’s way though “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on a stage lit to look like an American flag. Corny? Of course. But it was impossible not to be thrilled.