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W.Va. Symphony does Broadway tunesmiths justice

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Broadway and, more recently, its London counterpart have been home to tunesmiths and melodic wizards from Berlin to Bernstein, Rodgers to Lloyd Webber. If Claude-Michel Schoenberg, composer of "Les Miserables," seemed a cut above some of that august company in the West Virginia Symphony's pops concert Friday night, you could thank the gifted Christina Saffran.

Her heartrending performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from that show was the evening's highlight. The song used all her range. Her low range had rich colors, while her top notes were clear. Guest conductor David Stewart Wiley, of the nearby Roanoke Symphony, sketched a glowing accompaniment.

Norman Large, Saffran's male counterpart for the evening, was every bit as good. His take on "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," from "Guys and Dolls," had enough dark undercurrents to tell luck that it was in trouble if it left him. He sang "If Ever I Would Leave You," from Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," with charm and bell-like tone.

He is such a fine singer that "Music of the Night," from Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," does not sound like you have heard it a gazillion times. It sounds like he is exploring the melody and finding something new in it at each turn of the phrase.

Saffran sang buoyantly in "I Could Have Danced All Night," from "My Fair Lady," and carved the tunes of Lander's "Chicago" down to their bare bones with sass and attitude.

Together, the duo offered a delightfully impish "Anything You Can Do," from Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun," a boisterous medley of "A Grand Night for Singing" and "Tonight," and closed with a lyrical "All I Ask of You," from "Phantom."

Wiley led the orchestra with a light touch. The opening "76 Trombones," from Willson's "Music Man," and an Irving Berlin medley were strappingly robust. Larry Blank's "Broadway Fantasy Overture" cut and pasted among shows with zest. A big medley of tunes from Bernstein's "West Side Story" was awash in interesting orchestrations and spot-on playing.

The orchestra is usually precise in its programs and notes, but misspelling Richard Rodgers name as Rogers and Frederick Loewe's name as Lowe are glaring errors.

The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center. Don't let the typos scare you away.


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