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Catching up with the weekend: ‘Rain’ and ‘Love Conquers All’

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I’m still catching up with my busy weekend. (So much Kai to distract me!) There are two events I attended I want to acknowledge:

‘RAIN’ AT THE SAROYAN
If you’d told me before going into the weekend that I’d end up liking the touring Broadway in Fresno production of “Rain,” featuring four Beatles impersonators, more than the Fresno Philharmonic’s homage to the Rat Pack, I’d have said you were floating in the sky like Lucy and her diamonds. But that’s the case. The singing in this vigorously competent show was good, the energy was high, and while I’m definitely not Beatles-obsessed, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the crowd’s reverent boisterousness.

I’m still ambivalent about tribute shows, and there’s something a little creepy to me about how the four onstage performers exactly copied mannerisms corresponding to the original footage of the Beatles projected on two big screens on either side of the stage. (“Ringo Starr’s” little head tosses and blistering grins while drumming made me think of androids taking over the planet.) But people seemed to love it.

And while I thought the scenic design was a little on the cheap side — the opening scenery, consisting of cut-out arrows surrounding the four singers in their traditional band formation, looked like it belonged in a high school show — the lighting design was first-rate. And the sound? Seemed fine to me, with every lyric enunciated. Not so with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. the next night.  In that regard, the Beatles completely dominated their elders.

‘LOVE CONQUERS ALL’ AT THE SHAGHOIAN
The Youth Orchestras of Fresno has a great franchise going with its annual Valentine’s Day-themed “Love Conquers All” fund-raising concert. After perusing some delicious looking dessert items for auction, audience members on Sunday filed into the hall to listen to professional opera singers Scott Piper and Laura Pedersen, who offered sonorous takes on famous duets from Puccini and Verdi. The second half of the program was largely taken up by love songs from “West Side Story” along with a feisty rendition of “Mambo” by the orchestra.

Piper closed the concert with an encore of the beloved “Nessun Dorma” from “Turandot,” and like last year, it was exquisite.

I think the orchestra sounded great. My one concern in terms of sound was a certain muddiness in percussion-heavy pieces like “Mambo.” More frustrating was the near-drowning out at times of Piper and Pedersen, who were singing without amplification. (And it takes a lot to drown Scott Piper out, let me tell you.) I don’t recall that being an issue last year. Given the size of the orchestra and acoustics of the hall, is it time to consider amplification of the singers in this concert format? Or just keep the orchestra softer?

That said, I award my “section honors” for the evening to the trombone section. (OK, so maybe I’m biased, because I played trombone in high school and college.) I thought the section’s tone, articulation and power was first-rate. And the trombones were in good company. The best part of “Love Conquers All,” both last year and this year, was getting to hear all of the orchestra’s fine young musicians in polished, inspirational performances.

As for all those desserts, some lucky audience members bid themselves up to a sugar high. Here’s my favorite, titled “Dum Dum Tower.” I don’t know who won it, but he or she had a sweet ending to a memorable evening.

dumdumtower

 

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