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YOUNGSTOWN SYMPHONY Four stage performers bring life to tribute to Astaire and Rogers



Published: Mon, February 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The entertainers came with impressive Broadway credentials.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Powers Auditorium resonated Saturday evening to "Let's Face the Music and Dance: A Tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," the Youngstown Symphony's third pops concert.

Four talented singers headlined and provided a fast-paced and energetic Americana evening, mixing song and dance.

The two lead singers, Doug LaBrecque and Debbie Gravitte, had lovely vocal qualities. LaBrecque's beautiful, rich, dark sound and fine sustaining tones helped make the evening a delight -- not a surprise given his impressive Broadway credentials. Gravitte, born with a remarkable voice, has developed it with fine interpretation and wonderful stage presence. Her extensive New York experience included a Tony Award for best featured actress in Jerome Robbins' "Broadway."

Noah Racey and Nili Bassman, the other two singers, added an outstanding dance component to the evening. Racey's Broadway background included extensive choreographic credits, and Bassman had the lead in "Ginger," a musical on Ginger Rogers' early career.

Highlights

The vocal highlights were Racey and Bassman's wonderful performance of Jerome Kerns' "I Won't Dance," also including fine tap dancing; the catchy and bluesy opening production medley from Irving Berlin's "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," starting with the two ladies and moving to the four singers; LaBrecque's fine opening to Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band," followed by sparkling work by all four singers; Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm," always a jewel in any program, but lacking precision in LaBrecque's reading; a show-stopping performance of Gershwin's "Embraceable You," dominated by Gravitte's fine phrasing; Bassman's and LaBrecque's expressive rendition of Gershwin's "S-Wonderful;" and Gravitte's and LaBrecque's lovely harmony in Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."

Perfection sometimes eluded LaBrecque when he swallowed phrase openings, but he was terrific in Gershwin's "Shall We Dance." The large orchestral forces made even miked delivery a challenge, but director Isaiah Jackson and the symphony excelled in their accompaniment.

The novelty pieces included two great first-half Latin numbers: Vincent Youman's "The Carioca," from "Flying Down to Rio," and Abrey, Drake and Olveira's "Tico Tico," from "Bathing Beauty."

"The Carioca," a cha-cha, had a good solo by LaBrecque and exceptional paired tap dancing by Bassman and Racey.

Gravitte, dressed in red, was terrific for "Tico Tico," a number that helped Carmen Miranda become a household name. The castanets and orchestral brass made this piece shine. Gravitte tossed off Gershwin's "Treat Me Rough" with similar poise.

Racey's graceful dancing in "Slap That Bass" helped liven the focus on the orchestra's string basses who played well.

The two overtures were a study in contrasts. Holcomb's "Hooray for Hollywood" was replete with clich & eacute;s, but the "Crazy for You Overture" was far more imaginative. The latter had excellent brass writing, fine woodwind flourishes, nice muted brass for "Embraceable You," and good trombone lines on "I Got Rhythm."




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