Review: Symphony's Pops shakes its groove thing

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Could the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops ever wrap its giant musical talents around a disco ball? It did it Thursday night at Heinz Hall with "Disco Days & Boogie Nights," Jack Everly's newest themed creation and a tribute to the 1970s.

In 1998, Mr. Everly assembled a Symphonic Pops Consortium that has produced at least one new program a year, many of them appearing at the Pops. They have always been professional and entertaining, but this evening of disco, even to those who disdain it, may have been his best.

It was a musical staging of about 50 snippets from the decade that gave birth to pet rocks and platform shoes, the "Brady Bunch" and the Bee Gees, sung and danced by a cast of nine. A half dozen of them belonged to Chapter Six, whose name may remind people of the Bible or another a cappella group, Take 6.

But these guys, most of them from the same small college in Illinois, demonstrated a durability and work ethic that has kept them, for the most part, in close harmony for more than a decade. They were on stage for most of the evening, first breaking out into a BeeGees medley that hit the mark with trademark falsettos and close harmonies. Their real talent might have been their flexibility, carrying them through the likes of "The Muppet Show" and "YMCA." But they struck their strongest chords with the difficult musical landscape of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The women showed a strong Broadway bent, but most often "survived" through the diva spirit of the age. Farah Alvin was a chameleon, adjusting her warm tones and full voice to hint at Karen Carpenter and Melissa Manchester, then turning her own considerable voice loose to spotlight a fresh arrangement of Marvin Hamlisch's "The Way We Were."

"Wonder Woman" Anne Beck added to the visual impact, but some acoustical problems showed up, primarily in Eleasha Gamble's powerhouse solos.

Mr. Everly had some well-written monologues, delivered with just the right tinge of self-deprecating humor. That was balanced by the hard-driving, smartly arranged medleys, often a thrilling showcase for the orchestra's dexterity. (A sidebar activity for the audience might have been "Name That Tune.")

By the time the orchestra veered into "Groovy Movie Themes," the audience was all in, offering smatterings of applause for favorites that were recognizable in the first few notes, including "Jaws," "Through the Eyes of Love" and "Rocky."

This was an evening of glitter and glitz, neon brights and metallic ruffles. Except for a few moments of reflection (like the shimmering strings in "Imagine"), the '70s hit the audience head on, where, if they didn't like something, it seemed to whisk by in an instant. As if on an amusement park ride, the audience started looking to see what musical adventure lay ahead ... and this cast delivered.

The program repeats 8 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20-$83 at www.pso.culturaldistrict.org/production/32969 or 412-392-4900.

musicreviews

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: jvranish1@comcast.net.


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