On a cool, clear Friday evening, Marvin Hamlisch, composer extraordinaire, conductor, pianist and humorous host, earned standing ovations from a full-house audience at Progress Energy Center For the Arts – Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront area.
This versatile musician-composer conducted the Florida Orchestra, alternating between the baton and the Steinway concert grand, in a delightful program which ranged from well known and beloved show tunes like Old Man River, Make Believe, Dancing Cheek to Cheek and Gershwin’s Prelude II for Orchestra and a Symphonic Story of Jerome Kern.
Following a fifteen minute intermission, Hamlisch conducted the eighty member Florida orchestra in a rousing performance of the theme from Chorus Line. Other audience pleasers were an Irving Berlin Jazz Medley and a Tribute to Richard Rodgers.
Drawing on his Jewish sense of humor, Marvin Hamlisch drew many delighted laughs, especially on his interplay with the audience. At one point, he gestured to a young boy and his parents who were seated in a front row orchestra section.
He asked the boy if he played a musical instrument. The youngster replied that he did, but nervously said it was either the piano or clarinet. Hamlisch responded, “Remember, you blow into the clarinet and use your fingers on the piano”. He then asked the youngster where he was from. The boy said he lives in Florida now but was originally from Egypt. Marvin Hamlisch, quipped, “Wow, can you imagine, a Jew and an Egyptian on the same program.”
Demonstrating not only his comedic prowess but also his improvisational skills on the piano, Marvin Hamlisch asked if anyone in the audience was having a birthday. One member yelled out yes. Hamlisch then proceeded to tell the audience he was going to play Happy Birthday on the piano the way some of the old masters would have performed it. He then delighted the audience with a Happy Birthday version in the style of Chopin, Brahms and Bach.
Marvin Hamlisch is the composer of many motion picture scores including the Oscar winning score and song for The Way We Were and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s music for The Sting for which Hamlisch received his third Oscar.
His original compositions for films include Sophie’s Choice; Ordinary People; The Swimmer; Three Men and a Baby; Ice Castles; Take the Money and Run; Bananas; Save the Tiger and his latest effort, The Informant, starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderberg.
Also starring in the St. Petersburg, Florida performance was Stephen Lehew, vocalist. His appealing, powerful tenor voice and full range brought him standing ovations. He has had concert appearances with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall and over 25 American symphonies throughout the United States.
In closing this very well-received evening’s performance, Marvin Hamlisch told the audience that when they got home, not to watch the news or think about negative things, but instead to think about the enjoyment of the evening.
He then conducted the Florida Orchestra in a moving, beautiful rendition of the much loved, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Marvin Hamlisch has a web site at http://www.marvinhamlisch.com/