For 90 minutes last Friday night (May 6, 2016), orchestra founder and Music Director Luke Frazier, Director Nathan Brewer, and Choreographer Kelly d’Amboise transformed Lisner Auditorium into the New Rochelle living room of Rob and Laura Petrie. An array of lampshades overhead, and a few well-chosen pieces of period furniture (thanks to Modern Contempo Furniture) set the atmosphere for the evening’s entertainment. The requisite bar cart at center stage– within convenient reach of Frazier, a conductor with a decidedly wry (or is it rye?) sense of humor – aptly served as a visual focal point.
In place of Rob, Laura, Buddy, and Sally, the American Pops Orchestra’s featured houseguests/performers were actors Erik Altemus, Nova Payton, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Hayley Travers, and dancers Grace Alice Ball, Joey Day, Tony Thomas, and Shawna Walker. And what a swell party this was!
Song selections – strong on Top 40 Hits — highlighted aspects of love from unrequited, insecure, fickle, lost and newly found. The mix of faithful and fresh musical arrangements delighted throughout, backing the uniformly excellent vocals. To highlight a few examples:
Helen Hayes Award recipient and undisputed diva Nova Payton transforms two Carole King and Gerry Goffin classics, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” into one-act plays, mining the emotional depths of each song.
Debonair Nicholas Rodriguez, another Helen Hayes Award recipient, delivered exuberant, sexy renditions of “My Cherie Amour” and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and an emotionally charged ballad medley that included the sentimental favorite “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” by Michel Legrand (music) and Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman (lyrics).
Hayley Travers contributed impressive, back-to-back Patsy Cline standards, a heartfelt “Moon River,” and outstandingly pulled out all the stops at last on “At Last.” It was sheer joy.
Erik Altemus rounded out the quartet with his own blend of charm and humor. Not to be outdone, he captivated the audience with a poignant interpretation of “Both Sides Now,” revealing a dramatic core that is easily glossed over.
Dance enlivens the music throughout the program. Kelly d’Amboise’s choreography pays homage to styles ranging from Hullabaloo and Shindig! to Broadway and modern dance more broadly. The dancers were all spot on, but special mention goes to Shawna Walker for working a slinky green dress that brought to mind the iconic yellow one in Contact.
In a nutshell, The American Pops Orchestra’s cocktail party was frothy, fizzy, unequivocally delightful thanks in large measure, of course, to designated driver Luke Frazier.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
“Overture” / American Pops Orchestra
“Call Me Irresponsible” / Erik Altemus
”My Girl,” “My Guy” / Erik Altemus & Hayley Travers
“The Loco-Motion” / Dancers
“My Cherie Amour” / Nicholas Rodriguez, Hayley Travers & Erik Altemus
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” / Nova Payton
“Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” / Hayley Travers
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” / Nicholas Rodriguez
“The Girl from Ipanema” / Dancers
“Moon River” / Hayley Travers
“For Once in My Life,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” / Nicholas Rodriguez
“The Twist” / Dancers
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” / Nova Payton
“At Last” / Hayley Travers
“Both Sides Now” / Erik Altemus
“Unchained Melody” / Dancers
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” / Nova Payton
“People,” “Make Someone Happy” / Nova Payton & Erik Altemus
Make Someone Happy: A 60’s Cocktail Party was performed for one night only, May 9, 2016 at 8 pm, at George Washington University Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on The American Pops Orchestra, go to its website.