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LEWISTON – Old Artpark came alive again Thursday, as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated the park’s 40th anniversary with fun and fireworks.

The orchestra, led by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, performed some of the same pieces the BPO played on that very date in 1974. But that was only part of the nostalgia.

Looking around, you could almost imagine the past. Those round lights outside on the stairs of the amphitheater were all lighted. A bat swooped in on the stage, conjuring up memories of bats past. Best of all, there was a big crowd, filling the courtyard, mostly filling the hall. In grand Artpark tradition, they wore everything from shorts to formal finery.

The stars came out when the stars came out, which is to say the evening’s second half was better than the first.

There is no topping Michele Ragusa, Holy Angels grad turned Broadway star. She came out in a drop-dead gown, a sparkling dark affair that caught the lights just so. She was like a walking sparkler.

She sang “Think of Me,” from “Phantom,” and “Till There Was You,” from “The Music Man.” No one does high notes like Ragusa does, and both songs, with their silvery leaps, were perfect for her. Falletta, turning as she mouthed the words along with her, coordinated the lovely accompaniments perfectly. Ragusa gave both the songs trick endings – a vaudeville term for an ending that is surprising and show-offy. Both songs soared to the heights, and the crowd went crazy.

Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys of the Festival Ballet of Providence danced Tchaikovsky’s “Pas de deux (sans variations).” My deadline made me miss it, but my spies tell me it was wonderful. Luckily I did get to see Silvina Vaccarelli and Sergio Neglia, of Buffalo’s Neglia Ballet Artists, dancing the famous Pas de deux from Prokofiev “Romeo and Juliet.”

Sergio Neglia owns this part. I saw him dance the complete ballet at Shea’s, and it left such an impression on me that now all I have to hear is that glorious love theme and see Neglia walk out on stage, and I get weepy. Neglia and Vaccarelli filled the dance with youthful innocence, portraying the doomed teenage lovers not only with sympathy but with humor.

There were breathtaking moments, when he lifted her overhead, that brought gasps and bursts of applause.

I remember seeing “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time at Artpark years ago. Seeing this bit of it took me back.

The concert wound up with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which I really regret missing. Where the cannon comes in, Artpark had fireworks, bursting forth on the lawn at the back of the hall. I heard that the booms were satisfyingly deafening and that the effect was magical.

The first half of the concert could have been edited. It was far too talk-y – a common problem with big events like this.

You get a couple of emcees – in this case Laurie Frey and Jack Armstrong – and you hand them microphones, and all those little jokes and unnecessary introductions add up. Speeches and videos about Artpark, featuring politicians and celebrities, grew onerous.

Pianist Norman Krieger played Chopin’s “Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante” in an arrangement that calls for the orchestra to come in for the polonaise. I’ve liked Krieger’s playing before, but he was oddly lackluster on this occasion. The ending was good and bombastic – Chopin rigs it that way – but otherwise Krieger seemed weak and disengaged, and lost the audience’s attention. I was wondering if he was feeling all right.

Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For the Common Man” and Morton Gould’s “American Salute” added good old-fashioned sparkle. I think we will remember this festive evening.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com