Concert review: Dancers steal spotlight from Pops players
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With reality television dominating the small screen, it was only a matter of time before it seeped onto the stage. Pittsburgh Symphony Pops covered all its bases as it assembled alumni from "Dancing With the Stars," "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" for its season opener Thursday at Heinz Hall.
But that didn't mean that it was all just a series of solos and duets. It turned out that "Ballroom With a Twist" fielded a full-fledged dance company of 17 performers, plus a quartet of "Idol" finalists.
Where to put them?
The orchestra was pushed back only a couple of feet and probably trimmed a bit, although it was hard to tell exactly where, aside from the missing string bass section. It was enough to install a pint-sized dance floor. Creator and choreographer Louis van Amstel, a "DWTS" veteran, made the most of the space, sending his ensemble skittering and wiggling in curvilinear patterns that packed a real visual punch.
That visual interest also meant that the orchestra took a back seat in this performance despite a splendid new sound system that lived up to its highly touted reputation. The strings were a sonorous part of the blend, and the brass were in their usual high spirits as the orchestra moved through a mixed bag of tunes, from classic pop ("Singin' in the Rain") to Broadway ("Hairspray") to an intoxicating set of Latin dances.
Although a few bugs need to be worked out regarding sound levels, there was a real clarity and richness to the vocal sounds of the "Idol" singers, who not only provided backup but also got a chance in the spotlight with familiar pop classics -- a smooth David Hernandez (season 7, "Feeling Good"), the vocally robust (a la Whitney Houston) Lakisha Jones (season 6, "I Have Nothing"), sweet stylist Gina Glocksen (season 6, "The Prayer" with Mr. Hernandez) and soaring tenor in the Latin set, Von Smith (season 8).
Mr. Hamlisch, however, could have edited his patter, particularly in an overly long pitches about the Pops season and the dire consequences of not making donations. After all, this night was about the sequins and the sambas.
Headliner Edyta Sliwinska ("DWTS") was even better in person during her numbers, bedazzling Mr. Hamlisch so much with her trademark barely there bikini costume and its strategically placed scarf that he sometimes stumbled over his words.
Although she provided the real eye candy, "SYTYCD's" Gev Manoukian (2008 season), took high honors in a lyrical street dance improvisation that mesmerized with its secretive whisper of movement and innovative off-center sculptural positions.
Things occasionally got too casual (a birthday cake, onstage conversations), even a little schlocky along the way as Mr. Hamlisch picked ballroom contestants from the audience.
As for the five good-natured contestants themselves -- Jane Freidel (Liberty Borough), Tom Gondoly (Knoxville, Tenn.), Wayne Paul (Squirrel Hill), Roger Randolph (Point Breeze) and Jillian Scheris (Pittsburgh) -- they probably wouldn't have minded if the audience had picked a winner rather than the unorganized and unfathomable scoring from the "Ballroom" judging trio.
Hmmm -- vaudeville, beauty, sex, drama, frustration -- I think I've seen it all before. And it gets really good ratings.
"Ballroom With a Twist" continues at 8 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 412-392-4900 or visit www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
First Published October 15, 2011 12:00 am