One Singular Sensation, presented by Live Arts Maryland, was a loving tribute to the life and work of Broadway and film composer Marvin Hamlisch. J. Ernest Green led the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and Annapolis Chorale, as well as several solo performers, in renditions of Hamlisch’s pieces, including the themes from Sophie’s Choice and The Way We Were, as well as songs from A Chorus Line and The Sweet Smell of Success, among others. Along the way, Green reminisced about Hamlisch and his life. It was a night of wonderful music by one of America’s best composers.
The program began with an instrumental version of “One,” from A Chorus Line, which was fun and full of energy. “One” also ended the show – this time with lyrics sung by the Annapolis Chorale.
The first half of the concert focused on Hamlisch’s work for musicals, while the second concentrated on his film career. After a few words from Hamlisch’s widow Terre Blair, more songs from A Chorus Line followed, “Nothing” sung by soloist Ella Green, and “At the Ballet” performed by Valerie Lemon, Marissa McGowan, and Ella Green. All three singers captured the powerful emotion in these songs, especially the quiet heartbreak of “At the Ballet.”
Rocky Paterra, who first regaled the audience with his emotionally heartfelt “If You Remember Me,” and pianist Peter Dugan, who accompanied several of the singers. Sugan also performed a rousing version of the title song from the musical They’re Playing Our Song.
Rocky Paterra is an amazingly expressive singer, and whether he was expressing “the vagaries of falling in love” from “Falling,” or the quiet power of a late night in a jazz club from “I Cannot Hear the City,” or “the power of music to heal” from “One Song,” each number was deeply and intensely felt and emotionally delivered.
Ella Green brought out the tender vulnerability in her songs. In “Disneyland,” from the musical Smile, she told the story of a young woman eager and desperate to escape her life, even if it’s to a world she knows to be a fantasy. She captured the frustration of the main character from “Nothing,” who is longing to be an actress, and being told she’ll never have what it takes.
Marissa McGowan had a deep, soulful quality to her voice, which she displayed in “While I Still Have the Time” from Hamlisch’s last musical The Nutty Professor – a loving but determined effort to live for the moment. She made “The Way We Were” her own; with a quiet intensity infusing every note.
Valerie Lemon was both tender and funny in her performances. In “Dreamers” she eagerly sang of the need to dream, no matter how small. She and Green happily convinced the Annapolis Chorale and the audience to sing with her the delightful “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.” She expressed the sweetness and loving quality in the theme from Ice Castles; it’s easy to see why so many people perform this beautiful composition at their wedding receptions.
The four singers met onstage for “What I Did for Love,” accompanied by the Chorale. Gorgeous harmonies enveloped the Hall. It was a glorious mixture of powerful, emotional voices.
Pianist Peter Dugan accompanied Paterra in “I Cannot Hear the City”, beginning with a soft introduction before moving into a jazzy solo. He attacked the theme from the movie The Swimmer, bringing out the full, dramatic, power of the score. With the string section joining him, it created a sweeping, rich sound.
The members of the Chorale and Orchestra were, as always, extremely impressive. Eric Apland’s piano solos included a playful rendition of “The Entertainer” from The Sting, and a joyful instrumental version of “Nobody Does It Better” from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. At the end of that song, the Chorale sang “Marvin, you’re the best.”
The theme from Sophie’s Choice included two mournful solos from cellist Kathy Birch, with the strings joining in for a full, sweeping orchestral sound. It was haunting and spine-tingling.
Green helped sing the final song, “If He Really Knew Me” from They’re Playing Our Song, which contains the line:
“Does the man make the music, or does the music make the man?”
Marvin Hamlisch – himself – finished the song from a screen above the stage.
At the finale of “One,” Green, all the singers, and everyone in the Chorale held up a photo of Hamlisch in front of their own faces a la A Chorus Line. Throughout the show, the screen projected different photos of Hamlisch, as well as clips from his various movies and musicals. It felt like Marvin Hamlisch was there enjoying all the well-deserved acclaim.
Green spoke to the audience in-between numbers, providing insights into Hamlisch and his music. He said that “What I Did for Love” was one of his three favorite Hamlisch songs, and he always wanted it included in any of his concerts. He related that Marvin Hamlisch reintroduced many of Scott Joplin’s songs in The Sting, including the theme song – “The Entertainer,” and that They’re Playing Our Song was inspired by his relationship with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, and that Neil Simon wrote the book for the musical.
With beautiful singing and music, One Singular Sensation had a mixture of Marvin Hamlisch’s popular songs and those not as well known, making for an entertaining and educational concert. It was a thrilling homage to a talented, prolific, generous, and kind man, narrated and lovingly performed by artists who admired and loved Marvin Hamlisch – the man and the composer – who indeed was and will always be a ‘singular sensation.’
Running Time: Two hours and 30-minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
One Singular Sensation, presented by Live Arts Maryland, was performed on November 12, 2016, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis, MD. For information about future Live Arts Maryland events and to purchase tickets, call the box office at (410) 280-5640, or visit them online.
A Tribute to My Mentor and Our Friend Marvin Hamlisch by Joshua and Jane Coyne.
A Lovefest for a Mensch – A Celebration of the Life of Marvin Hamlisch at Temple Emanu-El by Joel Markowitz.
An Interview with Broadway Music Director Ted Sperling on ‘An Evening with the Music of Marvin Hamlisch’ at the Library of Congress on 10/19 by David Rohde.