The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Placer Pops Chorale
That’s Entertainment! — The Best of Stage & Screen – May 21, 2017
by Dr. Jeff Nelson
Limited space in this review prohibits me from explaining all the reasons why Placer Pops Chorale is one of the premier touring community choruses in Northern California, but allow me to enumerate just a few.
This performance, the last of 5 shows, was held at the nearly packed Harris Center, which is now one of our most popular venues. Lorin Miller chose the large Stage 1 which, on the surface, seems an easy choice for this 62+ member chorus. However, for this program and venue you MUST have a chorus that is experienced in handheld mic placement, soloists who know how to use a mic’d format and a sound engineer (Jeremy Haas) who knows how to manage the process. This show had a mix of floor, handheld and hanging mics that were passed from stand to hand and back and forth so many times, it seemed like a choreographed ballet…and that’s just the mics! Oh, and did I mention they had a phenomenal pit orchestra that was mic’d smack dab in the middle of the chorus? The result was not only seamless, but you would have a hard time knowing how difficult this was, if you weren’t looking for it. Wisely, Miller’s band used a mic’d digital drum set, which, although not my favorite percussion instrument, would’ve been a volume and mic’ing disaster if it were an acoustic drum set. Mark Leftridge, by the way, is a superb drummer and led with ease this rhythm section with all the tempo changes typical in Broadway medleys. Please refer to the program link below for the other musicians in this powerhouse band.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The Placer Pops Chorale sang the entire program memorized, with no music in hand. This is remarkable considering the volume of music and choreography. By intermission, I was wondering how they could also perform another half memorized, but they did. And they will perform another set of music at a public, free patriotic concert on July 1st and 2nd starting at 7 p.m. at the Auburn Library Amphitheater. Wait, did I say, “FREE”? (Note to self: Be there!)
The opening of the concert had Miller and the orchestra playing the prologue of the “My Fair Lady” medley which soon settled into Andy Beck’s arrangement of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” complete with film and stage mini-marquees on the sides. As they played, chorus members filed onstage and through the theater in character to coalesce around the orchestra and Miller. The stage setup included Miller at the base of the stage triangle and closest to the audience, directly in front of the concert Steinway and the rest of the orchestra tapering towards its apex with drums at the top. The chorus then surrounded the orchestra on both sides. This made it feel like the orchestra was part of the ensemble instead of being separated in a pit area…another brilliant musical and visual choice in addition to the great arrangements noted in the program.
The chorus was dressed in black with bright pastel accents of ties for the men and scarves and blouses for the women. They quickly moved into, “The Street Where You Live” with a rich male solo by Richard Rodgers…what? His name is really Richard Rodgers? The next solo was cleverly and wonderfully done by the first soprano section leader, Vivian Baughman, complete with cockney accent. Rodgers deftly came back for “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” By this time, I realized this group was ready to deliver one thing for this concert…FUN! You could tell they were well-rehearsed and enjoying every minute of it. They followed with a fun and animated men’s quintet plus chorus for “Get Me to the Church on Time” and the full chorus packed a wallop with a big finish in “I Could’ve Danced All Night.” Now you know what I mean by VOLUME of music…and that was just the first medley!
Miller then explained that this program was a mix of many shows that had all been presented in all three formats of film, television and stage. He also listed the winners of the Placer Pops scholarship program which donates funds to auditioned students who are studying the arts. Way to go Placer Pops!
You can see by the link to the program that the rest of the first half included medleys from The Sound of Music, Grease and Hairspray. Some of these highlights included a myriad of soloists for “Lonely Goatherd” (how did the sound technician keep track of the over 12 soloists and mics?), a wonderful classic crooner solo by Guy Pilgrim on “Those Magic Changes,” exciting choreography to “Greased Lightnin’,” and a marvelous solo from Maestro Miller himself on “Beauty School Dropout.” He’s such a consummate professional at conducting and orchestrating that we often forget that he’s also a wonderful soloist. They concluded the Grease section with a big, broad and bluesy finish which fit quite well.
Hairspray highlights included a powerful theatrical storytelling performance from Kelly Dunn in “Welcome to the 60s,” a great sax solo by Bill Sidney, multiple trios/duets and a male solo for the song, “Hairspray” (sorry, I didn’t see a name in the program here). Dunn, who has a rich vibrato and is a powerhouse for these big ballads, returned to carry the song, “Good Morning, Baltimore.” If you haven’t heard of her already, you will. Her vocal command and presence are not to be missed.
For “It Takes Two,” Placer Pops highlighted 7 men of their chorus downstage for a combined solo. If you’ve ever sung in a community chorus, you realize the difficulty of this feat. Not only were these men good singers but there were also many men on the risers. Retaining men in a community chorus is always hard but credit goes to Miller for making Placer Pops a place where men can thrive vocally. Ten women then took center stage for a very clever and fun version of “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.”
The first half finished with a great Hammond organ bluesy sound from Alan Koshiyama (I loved his sound choices throughout this concert) in “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” While watching the ending of the first half I wasn’t sure who was having more fun, the chorus or Maestro Miller. This totally swinging band then played the chorus members off the stage to rousing applause. I only wish this chorus knew how good they really are! Perhaps they all would smile more If they did and make just one more positive connection with their audience.
The return after intermission saw the full chorus in black with green sequined accents of various kinds for the “All MGM” portion of this show that ended with a mashup of The Wiz, Wizard of Oz, and Wicked. Highlights included a wonderful soprano solo in “Good Morning,” (Sorry I couldn’t identify the soloist from the program), a very funny male duet by Don and Tony Roberts in “Make ‘em Laugh” and the rich and vibrant solo of Jason Welch in “Singin’ in the Rain.” “Ease on Down the Road” had the band in a funky groove that kept the choreography lively and moving. Kelly Dunn returned for a broad and powerful version of “The Wizard and I” which showcased her incredible range. The soloists in this concert were particularly well chosen for each selection. The Scarecrow, sung cleverly by Michael Siegel, the warm baritone of the Tin Man (Jason Welch), the perfect vocal match of the Cowardly Lion (Tony Roberts) and the innocent tone of Dorothy (Hannah Barnett) made everyone smile. Toto, complete with carrying basket in hand by Barnett, did not sing. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a particularly nice arrangement by Mark Brymer. Hannah Barnett and Kaitlyn Sitton led the choreography on both sides of the stage which worked well visually and kept the million parts of this show moving in unison.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Patricia Leftridge’s masterful performance on the Harris Center Steinway. She really made it sing with great balance, and I was convinced by the end of this concert that there probably isn’t anything or any style she can’t play.
The coup de grace had to be the big finish of this talented group with soloist Dunn on “For Good” and “Defying Gravity.” The appreciative audience rose to their feet to reward the performers with a standing ovation.
It was obvious that these singers have a strong affection for Miller; you could feel their passion from the audience. I got the feeling that during the “We’ll Always Be Together” 50s section, that many of these folks really LIVED IT! It’s hard to describe that kind of feeling in words when you go to a concert, but it was palpable here. Miller got a cameo in “One Short Day” by stating, “The Wizard will see you now!” After this concert, one would have to agree that he really IS the wizard, after all.
Dr. Jeffrey Nelson as born in Seattle, WA and began studying music at the age of 5. He has sung in chamber, popular and theatrical groups and played in orchestral, jazz, symphonic and marching bands throughout his career. He also toured in Europe with the US Army for four years as a vocalist, instrumentalist and choreographer with the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus based in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied and worked with Fred Sautter and James DePriest (Oregon Symphony) and Dr. Bruce Browne (Portland Symphonic Choir) while studying Brass Performance and Conducting at Portland State University. He also studied with Anthony Plog (LA Philharmonic) and was a studio freelance trumpet and vocal artist in Los Angeles before moving with his wife Jennifer to Northern California. He has held conducting positions for Cantare Chorale, Gold Rush Men’s Chorus and has been a guest conductor in D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Toronto, Canada with the VA National Medical Musical Group based in Washington, D.C. He currently teaches private instruction in trumpet, voice and guitar in Placerville, CA and is a music director for Church of the Foothills in Cameron Park.