The KW Symphony recently presented “Sing-Along Musicals”! I got tickets even though Jean is not so big on “singing along”. When I saw the program, I wasn’t so sure how much of that I would be doing, either. South Pacific? Oklahoma? The King and I? Those are some old-timey musicals! Did I even know any of the songs from those?
Turns out I did, at least somewhat. “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair” has not always been a shampoo jingle, it turns out. Oklahoma includes “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “ I Can’t Say No”, and “People Will Say We’re in Love”. The King and I has “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know You”, and “Shall We Dance”. And they projected the lyrics, so you didn’t need those memorized.
The second half got a bit more modern, with “Defying Gravity” (done as a solo, mind you), selections from The Sound of Music, and a surprise encore of “Let It Go” from Frozen. The whole evening was fun, the concert featuring a youth choir, two talented young singers leading the sing-along (when they weren’t solo-ing), and young dancers making an appearance during some numbers. Conductor John Morris Russell, of the Cincinnati Pops, was lively as usual. So Jean enjoyed it also.
It got me thinking, though: What would be my picks if programming a sing-along musicals concert? Excluding any musicals based on the works of great rock and pop artists (such as We Will Rock You, Tommy, American Idiot, Mamma Mia, and Jersey Boys), because that would be cheating. And I guess that also excludes Moulin Rouge, though kudos to Baz Luhrmann for truly re-imagining all those pop songs in that music.
But merely having mentioned Moulin Rouge, I can now include this Virtue and Moir dance video, right?
First up, musicals with multiple great numbers in them, so we could do a bit of a singalong medley with those. In no particular order…
The KW Symphony’s intersections series was about combining orchestra and… something else. Physics. Fiddling. Food. Heavy Metal. Though Friday’s concert was not part of that series (sadly not offered this year), it was still of that ilk. The partner this time was figure skating.
There was no way I was missing this one. Particularly as it was being hosted by three-time world champion, first man to ever land a quadruple jump in competition, Kurt Browning.
Jean was considerably less enthused about attending.
If wondering, no, they did not somehow bring an ice rink into Centre in the Square, not have the symphony decamp to play at a hockey arena. Instead, most of the skating seen on video.
After an opening performance of An American in Paris, our celebrity host explained that while music was incredibly important in figure skating, it had to go through a certain amount of mangling to fit the sport’s requirements: Cropped to fit into the time constraints. Tempo adjusted to match the tricks. Bit recombined to create certain moods.
This meant that when the symphony played the soundtrack to a video of Browning’s world championship performance of Casablanca, they couldn’t just the pull out the sheet music for “As Time Goes By”. Instead, the conductor had to write a new orchestral score for the Frankenstein version of that piece that Browning skated to.
It was gorgeous.
Example of Cranston’s art
Browning was so moved by it, he barely knew what was on next, so conductor Lucas Waldin stepped in to explain that it was a tribute to Toller Cranston (who apparently pioneered this whole orchestra / figure skating idea), featuring selections from the ballet Gayane. This time, the screens showed scenes of Toller’s amazing paintings and decor before showing his Sabre Dance skate with live orchestra. Just fab.
Given the chance to recover, Browning emerged to point out that while artistic, figure skating is still a sporting competition with some serious rivalries over the years. The Symphony played Sing Sing Sing while we saw clips from the battle of the Brians, the battle of the Carmens (though they didn’t mention that both were defeated by Canuck Liz Manley), Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan (remember that?), Virtue/Moir vs. Davis/White, and so on.
We then moved on to a montage tribute to skaters past, when they had to skate outdoors (!), and future, in the form of the youngsters at the KW Skating Club. And Kurt Browning introduced Don Jackson, 1962 World Figure Skating Champion, who was in the audience. Cool! Oh, and the tune played for that piece was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
The next bit seemed to be interrupted by a badly timed cell phone call—only it was Kurt Browning’s phone, and on the line was Olympic Bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. (Seriously.) She talked about she managed to get through that Olympic performance just days after her mother died. Then the symphony played La cumparsita to a video of it. (Using a few stills so as to not have to cut the piece down to exactly 4 minutes.)
Kurt then dragged out a collection of his costumes from over the years, selecting a purple velvet hat and robe for conductor Lucas Waldin to wear. We then got a montage of some of the more interesting sartorial choices figure skaters had made (admittedly, many from gala and not competition pieces), to selections from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.
Kurt emerged in his Singin’ in the Rain outfit, and we got a singer! And tap dancer, it turned out: Mr. Geoffrey Tyler. With all that going on live, this song was not played to video footage of that famous skating piece. Instead, via roller blades, we got some live Kurt Browning skating! And the first standing ovation of the night.
At intermission, Jean said we very pleased about high entertainment value of the evening so far.
And he was not being sarcastic!
The second half kicked off with the Symphony playing Phantom of the Opera, on their own. Kurt came out to discuss the fact that many skaters tried to skate to that piece—but none had really succeeded in achieving an iconic performance with it. Too big a song, perhaps, for the white, bright, bare stage of figure skating competition.
Singer Tyler returned to perform What a Wonderiful World, a show piece of Kurt Browning’s. Tyler also talked about how he’s worked with figure skaters. on the dramatic aspects of their performance, on connecting emotionally. We then did a bit of a 180 into an Abba medley (though Abba sounds great orchestrated!), highlighting scenes from the world of professional figure skating.
And then, the hauntingly beautiful Mahler piece, Adagietto from Symphony No. 5. Conductor and Browning discussed how only very special skaters could do it justice. Katerina Gordeeva was one; she skated it solo as a tribute to her partner, Sergei Gringov, after his sudden death.
Another were Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won Gold with it at the Vancouver Olympics. The video played to this beautiful piece wasn’t either of those performance in their entirety, but compilations of them along with some from Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who didn’t use the music (that I know of) but certainly brought emotion and drama to their pairs performances.
The next piece didn’t need, and therefore didn’t get, video accompaniment: Ravel’s Bolero, forever synonymous with Torville and Dean. Though Browning informed that Carolina Kotsner is one of the few who has successfully skated to the piece since that team’s perfect performance.
Our finale was the theme of the Vancouver Olympics, I Believe, featuring the adorable singers of the Grand Philharmonic Children’s Choir. And then they gave us an encore! (Note: This is rare at the symphony.) Conducted by Kurt! The Toreador Song.
As a figure skating fan, I was thrilled to bits with the evening.
As a non-figure skating fan, Jean declared that he glad he had been “dragged out” to this performance. (Again, not sarcastically.)
It was a great intersection.
(Thanks to Skate Canada for all the footage they provided they provided for the show. Much higher quality than what you can find on YouTube…)
That’s the name of Salon posting post board thread dedicated to the sport (some would say “sport”) of figure skating. A sentiment I confess to sharing.
Before leaving for New York, I set the PVR to tape every bit of figure skating I could find on CBC. (And finding that was a bit of chore, given the off-prime time hours given over to it—midnight, Saturday afternoon…) When back from New York and waiting at the luggage carousel, I saw Jeff Buttle’s smiling face up on the TV screen showing the news. While I couldn’t catch the details, I knew that meant he had to have done well. They weren’t going include a sixth-place finish in a five-minute news summary.
Why I like watching this sport so much, I’m not really sure. I’ve certainly never done it myself, my own ice skating skills never having progressed much beyond the rudimentary. I like dance, too, but I don’t make a point of watching ballroom dance competitions on TV. But—and especially when Canada does have a reasonably strong team—I can’t help watching the figure skating.
This is a challenge, because I have hours of the stuff on PVR now, and DH does not share my enthusiasm. So I try to cram in the viewing when he’s not around, fast-forwarding the duller commentary and interviews, not to mention some of the duller skaters (that pairs silver team? My God, could they be any slower? As Kurt Browning said, maybe if they did nothing but jumps, I wouldn’t have to fast-forward out of boredom) and those just having a really bad day (one grows weary of wincing at all the falls).
So at this point, I’ve seen most of it. I think I just have the Dance Originals and the full women’s Long Program left.
I feel absurdly proud of the Canadian skaters, as if I had anything to do with it whatsoever. But those who doubt the toughness of people in this sport, think that fifth-place pairs winner Craig Buntin had to move immediately from lifting his partner over his head with one hand to shoulder surgery to repair the damage; that bronze-medal pairs Jessica Dube’s face was slashed by her partner’s skate last year; that gold medalist Buttle could barely walk a year ago, so bad was his back injury.
Also nice to see American Johnny Weir, always an interesting skater, finally win a world medal (a bronze), and that Japanese woman’s skater come back from a terrible fall in the opening moments of her program to be dynamic and perfect enough in the rest to win the gold.
But Jeff Buttle, I have to say, comes across as one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. So it’s really great to see that he won, and won decisively, by doing his quad-free program perfectly. Every big win this guy has had—the Silver at a previous World’s, the Bronze at the Olympics, and this Gold—always seems to be a big shocker. Maybe that’s finally over now.