Review: High-energy dancing, singing lift the Pops

PITTSBURGH, PA — The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops hooked up with high-energy dancing to open its season Thursday night with a program meekly titled “Ballroom With a Twist.” “Ballroom Boogie” would be more like it, because this show mixed styles with joyous abandon.

The orchestra was pushed back into the shell to create considerable depth for the dancers at the front of the stage in Heinz Hall, Downtown. The space was deep enough for ensembles to dance in front and back rows.

The setup was put to good use immediately in “Five Guys Named Moe,” led by five handsome male dancers who were joined by two women for a flamboyant routine.

Elegance was emphasized, at least at the start, in the choreography for “I Got Rhythm” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Both duets became less restrained as they unfolded, entirely in keeping with the exuberance of the rest of the show.

The show’s dancers were professionals from hit TV shows, ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Songs were performed by winners from NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Conductor Marvin Hamlisch said all the dancers made him feel good, like a Broadway musical. And he had fun with being gaga over the ladies, dancing in colorful and revealing outfits.

Ballroom with a Twist- Pittsburgh Symphony

Ballroom with a Twist

For all the visual pizazz in most of the show, the beautiful voice of LaKisha Jones singing “I Have Nothing” by itself garnered the first exceptional audience response of the concert. She simply stood center stage and poured her heart into the song.

The new sound system installed at Heinz Hall over the summer is a big improvement. It is much cleaner and clearer, even when very loud, and was particularly well-balanced Thursday night.

Although most of the program is in variety-show format, members of the audience were invited to be part of a little television-style competition in which they were paired with professional dancers. Hamlisch was looking for three brave souls. He got five: Robert Randolph, of Point Breeze; Tom Gondoly, of Knoxville, Tenn.; Jillian Sheparis, of Pittsburgh; Jane Freidel, of Liberty Boro, and Wayne Paul, of Squirrel Hill.

Three judges sat at the left side of the stage as the five couples danced to the merengue rhythm of “Suavemente.” After the judges’ scores were shown, Hamlisch said Pittsburgh’s a friendly place and declared everyone a winner.

Actually, Gondoly won the highest score, and he’s 75, perhaps three times the age of his attractive dancing partner. When he said his wife was with him at the concert, Hamlisch joked, “No, she’s not. She left.”

Source: Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune