For 16 years, John Mauceri has directed the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, providing entertainment, trivia, information, and delighting hundreds of thousands of people. This past weekend, it all came to an end, as Mauceri conducted his final concerts at the Bowl, before leaving his post to take the Chancellor position at the North Carolina School of the Arts. The annual "Fireworks Finale" performances ran Friday through Sunday, and Mauceri made sure that it would be one heck of a concert to remember.
Coming out on stage, Mauceri received a standing ovation before he even began the traditional "Star Spangled Banner". From there it was Elmer Bernstein's "Fanfare for John at the Bowl", an original composition written in 2004 for Mauceri. Typically Mauceri would regale the audience with his "Mauceri State of the Union" address - but this time, it was a heartfelt and entertaining "Farewell Address", as there will be no more to come.
Next up was the world premiere of Danny Elfman's "The Overeager Overture" (formerly known as "Overture for a Non-Existent Musical"). This rodeo-styled burst of creativity and Americana was strongly thematic, wildly imaginative, and superbly orchestrated by Steve Bartek. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago performed a reconstruction of the first ballet setting of Clause Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun", using the original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. After that, we were informed that a soprano would be making her operatic debut by performing one of the hardest pieces: Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walkure. Of course, it was performed (miserably) by the biggest diva of show business, Miss Piggy. Indeed, the Muppets had arrived to help send Mauceri on his way.
The American premiere of a concert overture from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1944 film Between Two Worlds was performed, with all of the orchestral flavors that made Korngold's works so enjoyable. Richard Rodney Bennett wrote a new piece for the evening, based on a 13th Century Trouvere melody. Entitled "Troubadour Music", the piece was an interesting deconstruction of a 700-year old melody, and rather pleasant to hear.
After the intermission, a video was played with actors Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow auditioning for Mauceri's job. It was amusing, but decidedly random. After that, Mauceri struck up the orchestra with a 10-minute long selection of songs (sans vocals) from the work-in-progress musical adaptation of William Goldman's The Princess Bride, composed by Adam Guettel (the grandson of Richard Rogers). It was an enjoyable sneak-peek at a musical that has yet to be completed, but it would have benefited from the inclusion of lyrics, to give it some context.
The highlight of the evening was easily the appearance of Tony-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth. Her performance of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's 1956 operetta Candide was truly one of the most enjoyable moments I've ever encountered at the Hollywood Bowl. Her energy and enthusiasm was truly contagious, and her vocal range was, frankly, staggering. Apparently she will be performing at the Metropolitan Opera this season - she's that good. She followed up with the Oscar-winning song "You'll Never Know", from Hello Frisco, Hello, sitting with Mauceri on the stage as he stared into her eyes, and slyly conducted the orchestra behind her back. Sadly, she never returned to the stage for the rest of the show.
The remainder of the evening was spent with the Muppets. Miss Piggy sat on a piano and sang (well, tried to sing) "Fever" - and her frustration with Mauceri was fun to watch. The Muppets were gone for a few minutes as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played a restoration of Gershwin's "Watch Your Step" from 1937's Shall We Dance, but returned with Kermit the Frog talking with Mauceri about his new position at NCSA. Figuring he could try to get into the school, Kermit auditioned with "Born to Be Blue" - but Mauceri didn't think it was appropriate, instead prodding Kermit to go with his seminal classic, "It's Not Easy Being Green".
Kermit and Miss Piggy entertained the crowd with their version of "I've Got You Babe", during which Miss Piggy was largely distracted with costume changes, and even a cellphone call. The concert ended with the fireworks spectacular, set to Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band". It was a brilliant display of pyrotechnical choreography, culminating with the image of Mauceri's face, and "Thanks John" in flame.
For the encores, Mauceri dedicated a performance of John Barry's Somewhere in Time to his longtime assistant, Mitch Hanlon. The second piece was Miss Piggy on the piano singing the standard, "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", dedicated to concertmaster Bruce Dukov and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. For the third and final finale, "America the Beautiful" was played. A wonderful arrangement, I only wish they had Kristin Chenoweth return to sing with it. It was a great evening at the Bowl, with multiple premieres, and while Mauceri won't be directing the Bowl next year (and it has yet to be announced who will be), he said he will return - so we can always look forward to that.