Film music/orchestra division makes its way up Cahuenga Pass each season, a natural alliance in the Hollywood Bowl concert season. Sunday's "The Big Picture: Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies" extended a real-time-meets-reel-time twist, showcasing the duo's musicals that made the transition from Broadway to Hollywood.
Unlike other more instrumental movie music-focused Bowl shows, the concert linked and synced the live -- and reliably solid -- Hollywood Bowl Orchestra with archival on-screen singing, framed by the composer-lyricist team's first collaboration, "Oklahoma!," and its last, "The Sound of Music." What might have seemed gimmicky, a semi-live concert doubling as an epic-scaled drive-in movie night -- for an audience of nearly 11,000 -- had its own logical charm, especially in Hollywood.
As was pointed out by the evening's kindly emcee, Robert Osborne, anchor of cable TV's vintage cinema haven Turner Movie Classics, the event sported added industry-town clout through the presence of conductor David Newman, of the famed and Hollywood-entrenched Newman family.
Often on Sunday, the real-time orchestral component got lost in the mix, subjugated to a "second-fiddle" supportive role for the vocal likes of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae in "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel," Yul Brynner in "The King and I," or Ray Walston's "Nothing Like a Dame" from "South Pacific."
From quirkier corners of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Hollywood canon came a kitschy Ferris wheel scene with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret from "State Fair" and snippets from the underrated "Flower Drum Song."
A particular sweeping sensation filled the Bowl when it came to Rodgers and Hammerstein's final -- and greatest -- creation, "The Sound of Music." Newman led the orchestra through the Wagner-lite sonic mistiness, over the classic introductory aerial shot over Austria, descending dreamily on Julie Andrews, singing with life-affirming clarity and boldness on an immortally grassy hill. Alas, the orchestra got a late-breaking instrumental Bowl spotlight during the tense climactic scenes, as the Von Trapp family eludes the Nazis, where Rodgers wrenches formerly cheerful themes into varying minor modes and dissonant variations.
Then again, film composers, even Broadway-trained ones, have always had more fun when the narrative going gets tough and tense.