It was a night of glamour, glitz and trash Saturday at the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa when the Master Chorale of Orange County opened a new season with an all-Andrew Lloyd Webber program.
The glamour and glitz came courtesy of a number of celebrities doing star-turns in a loudly amplified medley of songs from rock musicals ranging from the 1971 "Jesus Christ Superstar" to the 1986 "Phantom of the Opera."
Television personality Nancy Dussault sang with a needling, nasal voice and used her star prerogatives to pout expressively and make a series of doubtlessly meaningful entrances and exits.
Pamela Myers contributed an itty-bitty, poor-me, telephone-size voice, bolstered by electronically enhanced wavy echoes.
Jess Harnell made a bargain-basement Judas an all-around rock/blues star. Marc Allen Trujillo was a wobbly, warbling Phantom of the Opera. Soprano Renee Fleming, who did some genuine singing later in the program, contributed stratospheric obbligatos on cue.
The Californians, the 20-member pops subgroup of the chorale, swayed, bobbed and otherwise proved that they were with it. The rest of the 110-voice chorale sang with attentive zest.
The overblown, pretentious arrangements were made and conducted by Charles Cassey, associate music director of the chorale.
Incidentally, if you're going to do this kind of stuff, why not do it straight? Cassey regularized the syncopations of the opening chorus from "Cats" to make this catchy tune flat and boring.
Lloyd Webber has spent two decades turning out facile musicals with a pseudo-religious patina, if not core, so it was not surprising that when he turned to a serious religious effort, the results would be equally superficial. Still, his Requiem is so awful that it insults real bereavement.
What to make, for instance, of a up-beat Hosanna so chugga-chugga joyful that you jus' wanna jump aboard that ol' death train?
Susan Thomas Lee staged the work in lurid colors, dressing the chorale members in red, purple and black hooded monks' habits and draping a lengthy, garish purple swath of cloth across designer Gil Morales' huge, tilted cross.
There were also large candles, processions in and out and eight dancers (four men and four women) in gaudy, clinging body outfits--to emphasize, no doubt, the sacred nature of the experience. The dancers were none too secure in Lee's numbing, tied-to-the-beat, quasi-balletic, Vegas-revue style choreography.
With everybody miked, it was difficult to assess soloists Fleming and tenor James Matranga, who were costumed as if they were Southwestern passion play figures. But both seemed to contribute strong, secure vocalism. Mitch Lowe, the boy soprano, however, had a particularly bad night with pitch problems and his voice breaking. The chorale sang with spirit and clarity. Maurice Allard conducted.