By Don Heckman
The Hollywood Bowl opened its 91st season Friday night with a familiar bang. Once again, the summer’s first celebratory evening climaxed with a spectacular display of the Bowl’s justifiably famous fireworks.
And there were musical pyrotechnics as well, in an evening announcing the induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame of two stellar performers – the first time in the 13 year history of the Hall of Fame that all the inductees were females: singers Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan. They join a celebrated company of artists reaching from John Williams and Stevie Wonder to Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters.
The highlights of the Hall of Fame performances are – when possible – a live performance by the inductees. And this program was no exception.
After an introduction by the evening’s host, Julie Andrews, a video tribute from Lily Tomlin and a whimsical commentary from actress Melissa Peterman, McEntire – accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins — began a too-brief program of songs touching high points in her remarkably diverse career.
A jaunty romp through “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” from McEntire’s starring Broadway performance in Annie Get Your Gun, was followed by “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from her Bowl performance of South Pacific five years ago. Continuing with the theme song from her television series, Reba, she concluded with a spirited salute to her country music fans, singing one of her all-time hits, “Fancy.”
Chaka Khan’s appearance, which consumed most of the program’s second half, was a lengthy, fully packaged production in which she was surrounded by a group of singers, a company of dancers, her back up musicians and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The 10-time Grammy winning mistress of funk and soul was at her high voltage best, investing everything she sang with the irresistible emotional intensity that is the signature of her style.
After an introduction by American Idol’s Randy Jackson, Khan rocketed into a constellation of her hits – “I Know You I Live You,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and “Through the Fire.” Her intriguing version of “My Funny Valentine” was illuminated by a beautifully intimate modern pas de deux between a lithe pair of dancers. (Sadly, neither was identified either on stage or in the program notes.)
Khan received her award from her granddaughter Daija Holland and nephew Tyler McCrary before concluding with “Earth Song” and a climactic “I’m Every Woman” enhanced by the fireworks finale.
As appealing as all the star power on stage may have been, the most delightful highlight of the evening performance was provided by 35 members of the woodwind and brass ensemble of YOLA, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, introduced via a video clip by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. The young players, aged 9 – 12, romped enthusiastically through Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5, reminding the capacity audience that the concert’s primary goal was the raising of funds for the Philharmonic’s music education program.
Happily, it succeeded to the tune of $1 million dollars, providing annual support for more than 120,000 young musicians, families and teachers. It’s a reasonable surmise that both Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan are as proud of that accomplishment as they are of their richly deserved Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame awards.