In a USO show that would have made Bob Hope proud, last night the New York Pops celebrated its 28thbirthday at Carnegie Hall by paying tribute to the showbiz legend's artistic and humanitarian achievements. Hope starred in 60 movies, authored 12 books, introduced over 30 popular songs to the public, and most importantly, boosted the morale of millions of brave men and women serving in every armed conflict from the Second World War to Operation Desert Storm.
In addition to video clips from Hope's long career that included radio, film, and television (easily an evening's worth of entertainment on their own) the gala, conducted by Steven Reineke featured the music of America's greatest composers including Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, was graced by Broadway's finest.
Highlights of the evening's gems from the American Songbook were Christine Ebersole's fluid rendition of Porter's "You Do Something to Me" and Tyne Daly who magically made the great hall seem intimate with the lesser-known song "The Lady's in Love with You" by Frank Loesser and Burton Lane from the 1939 film Some Like It Hot. Listening to the pure notes flowing out of Kelli O'Hara and Aaron Lazar during the duet "Two Sleepy People" (Thanks for the Memory, 1939) it would be easy to believe the pair sing with the same ease with which they breathe.
Following a film clip of Hope tap dancing in The Seven Little Foys 1955, Cartier Williams brought the house down with his own interpretation of the sequence - the only drawback of course being that Hope wasn't there to perform alongside him.
In another delightful nod to Hope's film legacy, Gregg Edelman and Tom Wopat entered from the rear of the hall and "rode" down the aisle on a stuffed camel while singing a medley of tunes form the much loved "Road" films that Hope made with close friend and golfing buddy Bing Crosby.
By far the night's biggest disappointment was that five-time Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury -- who touched the audience with her words about Hope and his work -- didn't perform a song. Fortunately the program included a wonderful television clip of the two of them singing and clowning around.
Last night's event also honored marketing and advertising firm The Interpublic Group for their continuing support and involvement in the Pop's extensive work with young musicians and the New York Schools. In recognition, Reineke handed over his baton to Interpublic Chairman and CEO Michael I. Roth who conducted the orchestra for the Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller hit "On Broadway."
Though the list of performers was impressive -- certainly the best lineup of entertainers in Manhattan last night -- the most rousing and heartfelt moments were provided by Maurice Hines and the kids from Ronald McDonald House swinging to "Ballin' the Jack" and the West Point Glee Club who saluted the veterans in the audience with lush arrangements of the official songs of all five branches of the armed services.
To be sure, the constant showman Hope would have loved that.
-- EDDIE SAFARTY