It's Broadway weekend at Kleinhans Music Hall. Conductor Ted Sperling, known for his work on Broadway, is leading the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and he has two terrific singers with him. One of the singers is the marvelous Santino Fontana, starring as the Prince in the upcoming Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." The other is Tiffany Haas – Glinda the Good Witch in the recent touring production of "Wicked."
The songs, which come from throughout Broadway history, are arranged around a love story. A couple anticipates romance, meet each other, date, get married, have kids, fight, etc.
Sperling used his imagination. Irving Berlin's "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," from "Annie Get Your Gun," still sounds funny and modern. It was followed with the hilarious "Getting Married Today," from Stephen Sondheim's "Company."
Other highlights included Leonard Bernstein's "A Little Bit In Love," which showcased Haas' shining soprano. The glorious "If I Loved You" from "Carousel" was followed by "I Got Lost In His Arms," another Irving Berlin masterpiece from "Annie Get Your Gun." "Dividing Day," a heartrending song from "The Light in the Piazza," got atmospheric accompaniment, the violins' pizzicato suggesting mandolins.
The suave and likable Sperling, who besides conducting also played the piano, was a good emcee. A couple of political jokes met with icy silence – man, what were you thinking? But he did a good job of putting the songs in context. He even took the mic himself for "The Begat," from "Finian's Rainbow." He is a fine singer.
The concert was weighted toward the contemporary. Too much so, I worried at one point. Too many numbers in that abstract Sondheim style can bog things down.
On the other hand, these singers are so good they could probably sell me on the Brothers of Mercy commercial.
Fontana always sounds relaxed. He has style and star quality. His voice is smooth and controlled. He ended one song in a breathtaking falsetto.
Haas has the kind of honeyed soprano you might have heard long ago. She never belts or strains. It was thrilling to hear her hit the high notes.
She and Fontana both sound as if they mean what they sing. "One Hand, One Heart," from "West Side Story," was very moving.
So was Harold Arlen's bluesy "Come Rain or Come Shine," which singers too often belt out without a thought. It could put tears in your eyes.
Both singers have fine timing. Their patter songs were fun. The sound problems at Kleinhans really are fixed! You could catch every word.
The BPO got its own chance to shine, with the overture to "Girl Crazy." The band sizzled and sparkled in "Embraceable You," "But Not For Me" and "I Got Rhythm."
So ... who could ask for anything more? Everyone will have some answer to this question. You couldn't help it.
As long as the concert was rich in Buffalo references (Sperling was hip to our ties to Arlen and Yip Harburg) I wish they could have thrown in a song by the underrated David Shire. "Starting Here, Starting Now"?
It was a pity that three songs – "Almost Like Being In Love," "This Can't Be Love" and the bittersweet Rodgers and Hart lament "It Never Entered My Mind" – were cut, to make room for more of Sondheim's "Follies."
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"A Broadway Romance" with conductor Ted Sperling and vocalists Santino Fontana and Tiffany Haas. Friday morning and at 8 p.m. today in Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle.
Tickets are $27-$74. Call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.