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The Bowl Honors Musicals, Kelly

August 19, 1996|DON HECKMAN

The continuing romance between the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the great film musicals produced three fascinating performances at the Bowl Friday night.

The program, which featured reconstructed orchestrations from musicals, performed in sync with large-screen film projections of the appropriate scenes, was divided into two segments: "A Tribute to the Hollywood Musical" and "The Hollywood Bowl Pays Tribute to Gene Kelly." Given the acoustic layout of the Bowl, possibilities for technical disaster--projection and audio glitches, potentially out-of-sync music for the venue's upper reaches--lurked in every corner. But, to the credit of conductor John Mauceri, the orchestra and the many unseen but skilled technical personnel, the tricky project came off beautifully, with occasionally uneven film audio the only noticeable problem.

Perhaps fittingly, the high points of the presentation were segments devoted to Kelly and his rival and inspiration, Fred Astaire. A ballet sequence from "Follow the Fleet" (with an Irving Berlin score orchestrated by Max Steiner and Maurice DePackh), showcased a debonair Astaire and a gloriously slender Ginger Rogers as the personification of '30s elegance. A similarly romantic episode from Lerner & Loewe's "The Heather on the Hill" featured the energetically virile Kelly in an unusually elegant number with Cyd Charisse (who was in the audience). And, in the climax of the program, Kelly and Leslie Caron danced the ballet to George Gershwin's "An American in Paris."

The evening's three highlights were the Berlin, the Gershwin and a segment of Richard Rodgers' music for the "March of the Siamese Children" scene from "The King and I." And what was especially striking about all the film sequences (the "Dream Ballet" from "Oklahoma" was also performed), was the manner in which the projections came to life when accompanied by the full-blooded sound of the live Bowl orchestra.

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