Left – Wendy Smith-Brune and The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Cover – The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Photos – Noni Carroll
The timeless and legendary Glenn Miller Orchestra celebrated their 75th anniversary with a spectacular rendition of old classics and upbeat favourites. Backed by the appearance of guest singers Wendy Smith-Brune, Mark Kopitzke and the Swing Kittens along with the formidable physical talent of the Broadway Swing Dancers, the night lives every bit up to the orchestra's reputation.
The Americans sure know how to put on a show. The hall is bedecked in patriotic red and blue drapery, songs from the war and of America also belying that theme. Similarly the stands for the band echo the design of a traditional bandstand, the name of the orchestra etched onto the banners. Host of the night, orchestra musical director and trombonist Rick Gerber is endlessly endearing. His elocution is without airs or pretensions, yet he draws the audience through the array of acts, songs and description of numbers, and jokes with the warmth of an easily familiar figure. Carefully dressed in brushed down tuxedos, the members of the orchestra are also similarly charming. Interacting with one another via wink or nudge, pianist acknowledging the performers' tendencies to turn to him not only are the array of brass, double pass and percussion formidable talents, but they are also friendly ones. Soloists Gary Halopoff and Brian Mantz are highlights in their respective multiple performances, their intuition upon the scales and musicality a keen instruction for those hoping to follow in their line.
The orchestra excels at Miller's thundering, toe-tapping blends of percussion and brass. However, slower numbers provide a smouldering, shimmering difference in a clever balance between the repertoire on offer. The balance between vocalist power is also finely calculated, with performances interspersed between solely instrumental pieces. Wendy Smith-Brune's vocals are sublime, caramel-like and rich and raw in her lower register. She is dazzling in sassier numbers that befit her personality, such as 'Yes My Darling Daughter', and infuses a maturity and melancholic wistfulness into 'I Know Why'. While note placement occasionally blends into the strength of the orchestra behind her, her execution of the pieces she's been assigned is to be aspired towards. Mark Kopitze is similar stunning in his clear baritone and smooth rendition of old favourites along the lines of 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square'. While a dependence upon vibrato marks him out as a less traditional jazz singer, the difference can be appreciated. His rejigged version of 'At Last' is peculiar considering Etta James' iconic rendition, though suitable to the expectations of slower songs from the audience. Vocal group the Swing Kittens are a sweet execution of precisely controlled vocal harmonies and a perfect picture of old group the Andrews Sisters. Swinging and grooving their way through their arranged pieces, recycled dance moves and an uncertainty in choreography can draw away from their precise harmonies, though the effort is appreciated. They steal the spotlight in 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy', and while their part could be considerably improved in 'Chattanooga Choo Choo', their harmonies remain in focus. The Broadway Swing Dancers are charming additions to a largely musical night. While the stage is difficult to share and on occasion the small group feel outnumbered by the size of the orchestra and their set up, their effort and controlled choreography is impressive.
No expense is spared. Between costume change, lighting design and stunning encore homage to Australia and the sounds of The Glenn Miller Orchestra, the night is all that – and more. The talent and the heart put into these numbers renders Miller's familiar songs all the more unforgettable. Regardless of new composition or artist on the block, there's every potential for the orchestra to celebrate another 75 years on.
ATA Allstar Artists presents
The Glenn Miller Orchestra
Venue: Hamer Hall | the Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates: 9 – 19 November 2012