Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

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VSO, chorus, top-tier singer perform Broadway hits

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The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus will join the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Susannah Mars in concert on Saturday and Sunday.
The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus will join the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Susannah Mars in concert on Saturday and Sunday. Bill Barry/BarryFoto Photo Gallery

The bright lights, flashy, brassy songs: What could be better than some tunes from Broadway to highlight the Vancouver Symphony’s pops concert this weekend? The orchestra will collaborate with Susannah Mars and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus in a program of favorites from the Big Apple.

Mars is considered one of the top tier singer-actresses in the Pacific Northwest with well over 100 concerts and shows to her credit, including numerous musicals. She has performed on nearly every stage in the Portland metro area and has appeared in TV shows, such as NBC’s “Grimm.” Her talent and consummate professionalism helped her to receive two Portland Area Music Theatre Awards and six Portland Drama Critics awards.

Mars maintains a busy schedule and is just returning from Florida where she sang a concert series called In Perfect Harmony. After her concert with the Vancouver Symphony, she will be working with Northwest Dance Project on a piece in February for their gala, and then return to her podcasting for Artslandia magazine, interviewing people in the arts from around the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s a dance to make everything work,” Mars said over the phone while making lunch and looking up her schedule on a laptop. “That’s life!”

She will team up with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus to sing “Hello Dolly,” “Blow Gabriel Blow” from “Anything Goes,” “What I Did for Love,” from “A Chorus Line,” and “Make Our Garden Grow” from “Candide.”

If you go

What: VSO pops concert with Susannah Mars and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus.

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $38 for general admission, $34 for seniors and $10 for students.

“I haven’t done these pieces in quite awhile,” Mars remarked. “There are many versions of each song. ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’ has versions that go back to the Cole Porter days. There are a lot of specifics to fine tune, depending on the style and lyrics.”

Mars has worked with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus many times over the years and they have even released a recording called “On Broadway,” which is packed with favorites.

“I love that group of people,” Mars said of the chorus. “There is something about their spirit with which they make music that is so joyful. They inspire me every time we work together.”

The feeling in mutual from the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, according to its artistic director Bob Mensel.

“Susannah is our favorite leading lady,” Mensel said. “She’s amazing! We did that CD back in 2009, and we used several members of the Vancouver Symphony. It’s great that we are doing a live performance together.”

Mensel, who has been at the helm of the chorus since 1993, has prepared the ensemble in three pieces that it will do on its own: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin” from “Oklahoma,” “To Build a Home” from “The Bridges of Madison County,” and “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime.”

“We love this music. We will have 90 to 100 of our singers on stage,” Mensel said. “We are bringing our risers to accommodate everyone. We’ll be all along the back wall behind and above the orchestra.”

Young voices

The concert will also feature the voices of three young women from the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. They will sing the peppy “America” number from “West Side Story.”

The orchestra will own the spotlight for a couple of symphonic works that have a distinctly American sound from two composers born in New York City. “An American in Paris,” written by George Gershwin, has lively, jazz-inflected melodies that made the piece an instant hit ever since it was played for the first time by the New York Philharmonic in 1928.

Up until that point, Gershwin was acclaimed across nation as a composer of popular songs and Broadway musicals. He uncorked “An American in Paris” after a visit to France to study with Maurice Ravel. It has a loose episodic structure that charts the adventures of an American tourist sampling the glories of Paris and succumbing to fits of homesickness along the way.

The orchestra will also play the suite of four dance episodes from the ballet “Rodeo,” which Aaron Copland wrote for the great dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille in 1942. “Rodeo” followed the success of his other cowboy-themed ballet “Billy the Kid” with a love story between a cowgirl and the Head Wrangler. “Rodeo’s” premiere at the Metropolitan Opera delighted the audience so much that the performers received 22 curtain calls.

The orchestral suite, which received its first performance by the Boston Pops in 1943, consists of four segments: “Buckaroo Holiday,” “Corral Nocturne,” “Saturday Night Waltz” and “Hoe-Down.” The first and last contain American folk tunes that are largely unknown today. “Hoe-Down” quotes dance numbers from the 19th century Anglo-American square dance tradition, such as “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” and “McLeod’s Reel.”