Musicians are often taken for granted when performing at concerts headlined by famous singers. One of the most impressive aspects of the August 26 Bernadette Peters’ concert at the Embarcadero Marina Park South was seeing the San Diego Symphony given their due throughout the evening.
Before the Tony-winning celebrity arrived on stage, the Bayside Summer Nights artists played several musical numbers from television, film and theatre for the audience. They started things off by hooking fans of the stage with “Broadway Tonight!” which featured cheerful snippets of show tunes from The Fantasticks, Funny Girl and The Sound of Music.
In charge of this portion of the evening was Principal Summer Pops Conductor, Matthew Garbutt. Despite getting ready to retire from his position, he seemed to love every second of being onstage.
During an unusually peppy version of the title song from Cabaret, arranged by Bruce Chase, he joyfully directed the orchestra with limitless energy. For future events, Garbutt will still be involved with the band as the principal tuba player. Here’s hoping the next conductor shares his high-spirited enthusiasm.
Peters introduced herself with a sensual take on “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy. At 68 years old, she continues to have a youthful presence that charms listeners.
From the first melody on, the night felt like a true collaboration between Peters, her primary conductor, Marvin Laird, and the musicians. Several times, she acknowledged the contributions from the instrumentalists (including guest drummer, and former Mouseketeer, Cubby O’Brien) and their maestro.
An interesting fact about the eve was that the majority of songs Peters presented were ones that she never sang in a musical on Broadway. Her selections displayed the leading lady’s vocal versatility.
The entertainer has long been associated with Stephen Sondheim musicals, and a good amount of the tunes were from the revered composer/songwriter. She had no issues hitting the complicated and demanding notes written by the groundbreaking storyteller.
Two songs that exhibited restraint and grandeur were Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music and “Joanna” from Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Peters conveyed the sadness of the song with unforced emotion. Occasional loud sounds, admitted from outside the Embarcadero, did not lower the impact of the classic ballad.
On the other hand, “Joanna” was an exercise in scope with Peters and the accompanists’ rendition, growing more massive by the final verse. The ending was justifiably met with thunderous applause.
Rodgers and Hammerstein were also honored with songs like “Mister Snow” from Carousel and “It Might as Well be Spring” from State Fair. There was a romantic quality to the way Peters crooned to the sound of calming violinists.
She even featured a little bit of Disney music with “When You Wish Upon a Star”/”A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Hearing the extremely upbeat mash-up right after “Send in the Clowns” was a little jarring. However, the shift in tone fit with the overall cheerful mood of the evening.
Between songs, Peters spoke to the crowd in a relaxing demeanor that was often funny and entertaining to experience. Her warm and intimate way of talking felt similar to having a conversation with a close friend.
Musical performers, the conductors and Peters, all contributed to a big love letter to timeless musicals. Although the Summer Pops is concluding in early September, there are still plenty of exciting nights coming up.