Symphony Pops celebrates Rodgers & Hammerstein

By Tim Gaylard, Special to The Roanoke Times

Under the direction of David Stewart Wiley, the Roanoke Symphony’s Pops season concluded on Friday with a celebration of the great musical theater masterpieces of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Before a crowd of about 2,000 people in the Salem Civic Center, the concert featured notable Broadway performers Jennifer Hope Willis, Mandy Gonzalez, Jeremiah James and Rob Gallagher, who performed the highlights from the most important works in the R & H canon.

To begin, the orchestra played the familiar “Carousel” Waltz, which presented the whole ensemble at its very best, especially the rich and full-bodied string section. Wiley wielded his baton with gusto, full of physical energy, a trait he maintained for the rest of the show.

The quartet of soloists then appeared, introducing themselves by singing the apt “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” which perfectly showcased their voices, both separately and in ensemble.

The first half of the program focused on solos and duets from “The King and I” and “Carousel.” James displayed a sweet high baritone voice in “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and he and Hope Willis sang radiantly in the love duet “If I Loved You.” Gallagher impressed with a dramatically riveting “Soliloquy,” but the most moving moment of this half came when Gonzalez sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with the deepest emotion, prompting the longest and loudest applause from the crowd.

After the intermission, the singers took on favorite selections from “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.” James began with a refreshingly relaxed and idiomatic “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and Hope Willis performed a convincing “A Wonderful Guy” with her colorful voice. Gallagher revealed his plummy low tones in “Some Enchanted Evening,” which also featured Akemi Takayama’s vibrant solo violin. Gonzalez, once again, showed complete expressive commitment and excellent diction in “My Favorite Things.”

The quartet ended the evening with the rousing and peppy title song from “Oklahoma!”, which brought the audience immediately to its feet. This prompted an irresistible encore — “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a fitting ending to a highly engaging and successful performance of memorable tunes.

Timothy Gaylard is professor of music at Washington and Lee University.