By Lawrence Budmen

2002 marked the centennial of the birth of one of the giants of the American musical theater - Richard Rodgers. From his early collaborations with Lorenz Hart (which produced such innovative work as the ballet musical "On Your Toes") to his historic partnership with Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, Rodgers changed the artistic profile of the Broadway musical. Beginning with "Oklahoma," Rodgers and Hammerstein created a new American art form. In a 50 year theatrical career, Rodgers composed more great songs than any other composer for the Broadway stage. On February 11, 2003 conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra brought their "Richard Rodgers Celebration Tour" to the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, presented by the Concert Association of Florida.

In the eight years since Lockhart's 1995 appointment as Boston's principal pops conductor, some musicians have raised questions about his ability and musicianship. The music of the Great White Way may be his real area of expertise. Leading an excellent group of Boston freelance musicians, he produced an evening of exhilarating music making. Lockhart was astute enough to use the original Broadway arrangements. A Broadway composer's orchestrator is his alter ego. Richard Rodgers had two of the greatest arrangers in the field - Hans Spialek (for the Hart shows) and Robert Russell Bennett (for his musicals with Hammerstein). It was wonderful to hear these brilliant, imaginative orchestrations played with such idiomatic style and polish by the orchestra. Lockhart exhibited a natural affinity for both the quirky humor and the romantic sweetness of Rodger's melodies. 

There were some real novelties on the program. The opening movement - March of the Clowns - from a three part "Nursery Ballet" (commissioned by the legendary Paul Whiteman in 1938) was a witty vignette. The music was filled with angular melodies and jagged rhythms in the manner of Stravinsky. Here the wind playing had real bite and spikiness. In 1936 Whiteman commissioned Spialek to do a special arrangement for his band of the ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue from "On Your Toes." This welcome revival revealed a jazzier, more tightly structured work than the version that is usually performed. The orchestra played it with vigor and flair but, here, Lockhart made his only misstep of the evening. He failed to bring off the conclusion effectively. The ending just seemed to come without any sense of climactic flourish. Spialek's overture to the 1937 musical "Babes in Arms" had a dance band sensibility and showbiz pizzazz. Lockhart and the orchestra gave it a rousing performance that captured the real "Broadway sound." The main title music from the film version of "Oklahoma" (arranged by Adolph Deutsch) had a delightfully romantic and schmaltzy "Hollywood" sound.

The evening's two vocal soloists were both Broadway veterans. Lisa Vroman has an appealing light soprano voice. Too often she exhibited a wide vibrato that was not under control. She also had a tendency to be over emphatic in her vocal manner. Her rendition of A Wonderful Guy from "South Pacific" was over the top. In the second part of the concert she seemed to settle down and did some fine singing. Her version of the rarely heard I'll Tell the Man in the Street from "I Married An Angel" was very beautiful. Her duets with Mr. Raines (from "A Connecticut Yankee," "Oklahoma," "State Fair," and the King and I") were all sung with romantic warmth. Their voices blended well and they sang with style. Raines exhibited a manly baritone in the great Broadway tradition of John Raitt and Howard Keel. His performances of Some Enchanted Evening from "South Pacific" and the Soliloquy from "Carousel" (one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's path breaking scores) were vocally rich and exciting. 

Colorful lighting effects and projections added to the effectiveness of the concert.
For encores Ms. Vroman and Mr. Raines sang a rousing, full voiced version of the title song from "Oklahoma" and Lockhart and the Boston musicians gave a broadly phrased performance of John Phillip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This was an evening of music by one of America's great composers led by a conductor whose musical heart is on Broadway - an enchanted evening indeed!  

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