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Review: Pops opens with heartfelt tribute, stirring turn by 'Glee' star

| Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Matthew Morrison Credit: Pittsbugh Symphony

The show must go on, and did Saturday afternoon when the Pops opened its season with moments of tribute to Marvin Hamlisch in a program starring young singer and dancer Matthew Morrison.

The orchestra was set up the way it normally was for Hamlisch, the multi-award winning composer for Broadway and Hollywood who led the Pops for 17 seasons and died in August. The piano was behind and to the left of the podium, and angled toward the brass, which made it easier for Hamlisch to talk with the audience from the keyboard.

Guest conductor Lucas Richman began by remembering Hamlisch and telling one of his jokes. Then Richman took to the piano and started playing the song “The Way We Were,” for which Hamlisch won one of his three Oscars. The music's mood was perfect for the occasion, and heightened when the orchestra joined in.

Richman often worked with Hamlisch as a symphony staff conductor before he left in 2003 to become the music director of the Nashville Symphony, in Tennessee. He conducted a medley from “Funny Girl,” his own arrangement of love songs from the movies and “Mambo” from “West Side Story.”

The orchestra played well, with energy and style, but the music would have benefited from more profiled balances.

Morrison's appearance on stage after intermission was greeted with a burst of energetic cheering from the audience, which knows him best for playing Will Shuester on the popular television show “Glee.”

He performed a dozen Broadway favorites in arrangements that he's already recorded for his yet-to-be-released second CD. He caught the musical theater bug while a boy, and was prospering on Broadway when he moved to California for “Glee.”

Morrison's performances reflected his love of the song and dance man tradition, as exemplified by Sammy Davis Jr. He sings and moves well, even giving some Elvis pelvis moves. He also made good use of classic minimal props, especially a black hat and a coat stand.

There was plenty of energy for uptempo numbers, such as “It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing,” in which Morrison was highly stylized. More reflective numbers such as “Send in the Clowns” were more impressive and moving.

Best of all was “What I Did for Love,” but then extra emotions were attached to this Hamlisch favorite. As Morrison left the stage, most of the house lights were lowered, leaving only a spotlight on the empty podium for a moment of silence.

Morrison then returned for two encores, a duet of “Over the Rainbow” with his girlfriend, and “Singin' in the Rain” as a solo (with umbrella), which of course was a signature song for Pittsburgh's song-and-dance man Gene Kelly.

This concert will repeated at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $108. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

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