Single-handedly, Patti Page finally answered the one question about the Orange County Performing Arts Center that not even the Los Angeles Philharmonic or the mighty Chicago Symphony could resolve with their music of Beethoven and Wagner.
Specifically, could the $70-million concert hall do justice to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"
Actually, Page's concert Saturday with Les Brown and The Band of Renown was probably the most relaxed, comfortable evening at the Center since it opened last September. At last, the audience could applaud not only between songs, but during them, without fear of violating proper concert etiquette. What's more, the capacity crowd was given a full evening of songs they could whistle on the way home.
As the first in the Center's series of big band concerts that will run through the summer, Page's performance found the veteran pop singer characteristically personable and in fine voice. She remains a deceptively natural vocalist who can move authoritatively from the straight pop of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," the classic jazz phrasings of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" to the straight-forward country emotion of her own 1950 hit "Tennessee Waltz."
Only on a fluffy, half-hearted, mock-country arrangement of Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" did Page seem to miss the essence of her material. Yet despite the uptown look of her sparkling white evening gown and complex textures of some of the jazzier numbers, it's clear that the Claremont, Oklahoma-born entertainer has never lost the down-home congeniality and honesty of her Midwest roots.
Before turning over his band following intermission to Rocky Cole, Page's longtime pianist and arranger, Les Brown led The Band of Renown through one hour of brick-wall-solid, big-band ensemble work. Most of the set was as frothy and instantly accessible as Brown's ebullient theme song, "Leap Frog," although he and the band struck out for more challenging territory with the varied rhythms and colors of Richard Rogers' "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." Saxophonist and singer Henry (Butch) Stone gave a gutsy vocal on the bluesy (and humorously sexist) "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."
The Segerstrom Hall acoustics, making extensive use of the "sound reinforcement system" (i.e., amplification), had difficulty achieving balance and warmth and remained overly harsh, especially with the brass sections, through the first half--at least from Row F of the Orchestra. The band gained more warmth and sounded less edgy during Page's set, as heard in Row A of the First Tier.
Next up in the Center's big band series is a June 29 concert with Kay Starr, the Modernaires and Horace Heidt Jr. and His Musical Knights.