Rogers and Hammerstein. Lerner and Loewe. The Gershwins. Kander & Ebb. The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops series finally got around to that last pairing this week as conductor Jack Everly brought one of his slickly packaged thematic shows to Heinz Hall.
Kander & Ebb tunes aren't household names. They are best known for award-winning shows like "Chicago" and "Cabaret," and they put a new face on The Big Apple with the anthem "New York, New York." It comes as a surprise to most people that they are ahead of the aforementioned pack with 13 musicals appearing on The Great White Way.
The combination of Fred Ebb's often provocative lyrics (the comically murderous "Cell Block Tango") and John Kander's shoot 'em straight musical phrasing, so singularly climactic in virtually every song, made for a grab 'n go night of music making on Thursday night.
The musically astute Mr. Everly brought with him a quintet of experienced Broadway performers, as we would have expected. Nikki Renee Daniels ("Porgy and Bess") had a richly controlled vocal quality, so good in the little-known "Go Back Home" from "The Scottsboro Boys," and Ted Keegan had the kind of vocal power that once stood him well in "Phantom of the Opera" but transferred powerfully to "Mr. Cellophane."
Beth Leavel more than once evoked Liza Minnelli through her quirky mannerisms, both in movement and facial expressions in songs like "City Lights." She was almost anxious to please the audience, and they responded in kind. And the ingenues -- earnest tenor Ron Remke, who started things off dramatically as the sleazy Emcee in "Willkommen," and talented Carnegie Mellon graduate Kirsten Scott -- each brought their own brand of energy and were able to hold their own.
They all know how to sell a song and that was the primary point of this program. As such, it turned out to be an ensemble evening, with everyone on virtually equal footing.
It may not have been as clever as some of Mr. Everly's previous efforts here. "Songs You Might Have Missed" from lesser-known Kander & Ebb musicals, sans a witty explanation or commentary from Mr. Everly, failed to hit the mark.
As expected, "Cabaret" and "Chicago" shouldered much of the musical burden during the evening. But "Cabaret" has moved on from Ms. Minnelli's open-hearted, awkwardly gamin-like qualities to respected actresses who are not necessarily skilled singers (Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams will head the next revival this year). So Ms. Leavel's semi-slutty "Everybody's Girl" was immediately funny but didn't provide a lasting impression.
The Academy Award-winning "Chicago" brought it all home, with a medley of seven songs. And, yes, the "Razzle Dazzle" of it lifted the audience to their feet.