By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Marvin Hamlisch, conductor
Saturday, June 16, 2012 • Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia
Next performance: July 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Celebrations and colonoscopies (yes, you read that right) were two of the threads that showed up in the Pasadena Pops concert Saturday night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. It was the inaugural concert in the orchestra’s 25th season and the first in its new home: the Great Lawn of the Arboretum.
It’s been quite a journey for the Pops, which for much of its career was at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada before shifting to a lawn adjacent to the Rose Bowl two years ago. When the Arboretum decided to revisit its 14-year-relationship with the California Philharmonic 18 months ago, the Pops beat out the Cal Phil for the right to camp in the Arboretum for the next three summers (the Cal Phil subsequently shifted to Santa Anita Racetrack, where it opens June 30).
In many ways Saturday night seemed like a slightly upgraded version of Cal Phil concerts at the Arboretum. The portable rest rooms were fancier, four food trucks were added to the collection of eateries for those who didn’t bring a picnic, and the lighting on the path for those walking south through the gardens after the concert was brighter.
Most importantly, the Pops added video screens on each side of the stage and shell and the crispness of the screens was a major upgrade from last year at the Rose Bowl. The sound was quite good for an outdoor concert even in the farthest reaches of the lawn seating (however, bring binoculars if you’re parking yourself there). The orchestra played stylishly throughout the evening.
The program, conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Marvin Hamlisch, was a mixed bag. On the plus side was a sparkling set after intermission by vocalist Lucie Arnaz (daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) who danced and sang her way deftly through a medley of tunes.
Arnaz then joined with Robert Klein for portions of the musical They’re Playing Our Song, which opened at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in 1978. With a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Hamlisch, this two-person show starred Arnaz and Klein when it opened on Broadway in 1979 where it ran for 1, 082 performances. The Broadway production was nominated for four Tonys (1979 was the year when “Sweeney Todd” cleaned up) and five Drama Desk Awards. Arnaz won the Theater World Award for what was her Broadway debut.
In some ways, Arnaz (at a very youthful age 60) and Klein (now 70) might have been more believable than when the musical first opened. They gave a witty, poignant performance Saturday night with Hamlisch providing some background of the story. As it did all evening, the orchestra performed stylishly.
Whether you liked Klein’s first-half set of shtick and song — which began with a song about “Colonoscopies” and ended with one about “Viagra” — was clearly a matter of taste. Many laughed uproariously at the somewhat crude humor, which, as one person noted, contained every hoary stereotype about old age. Others (including this critic) wondered whether humor conceived for a nightclub was appropriate for a family oriented concert at the Arboretum.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.