The Cleveland Pops celebrated John Williams’ 80th birthday on Saturday night in the form of a concert featuring various works from the legendary composer. Conducted by the ever-entertaining Carl Topilow, the evening offered iconic music, film clips on a big screen and a few unexpected surprises.
The fun started even before the concert began. Members of the Great Lakes Base Rebel Legion, fully dressed in authentic-looking STAR WARS costumes, mingled with guests in the lobbies. Photo ops were available with Stormtroopers, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, C-3PO, Boba Fett and even Darth Vader. The tone of the night was set. I was already geeking out about the concert but seeing some of my favorite STAR WARS characters standing in front of me got me even more excited. Once I took my seat, there was even a Stormtrooper walking up and down the aisles that gave me a hard time about texting on my phone before the show.
Looking at the program, I was a little taken aback by the fact SUPERMAN and “Imperial March” from STAR WARS were not included. To me, these are two signature John Williams’ compositions, ones everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. And considering selections from THE PATRIOT, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN were included, I found those omissions even more disappointing.
The concert opened with “The Mission Theme,” more commonly known as the theme for NBC NIGHTLY NEWS. The piece is instantly recognizable and far more than the mere snippets you hear at the beginning and end of Brian Williams’ broadcasts.
Film clips accompanied the selections from JURASSIC PARK, INDIANA JONES, E.T. and HARRY POTTER. While excellent in theory, they were very poor in execution. One would have thought the clips would either match the scenes portrayed with the music or would be an overall montage of the movie. My assumptions were wrong. The JURASSIC PARK sequence seemed to show the logo more than actual clips and even when clips were shown, they were a poor representation – the T. Rex and velociraptors were nowhere to be seen, but we saw Lexi getting sneezed on by a brachiosaur. While the orchestra played “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, clips from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK played on the screen and just as Elliot and his friends were about to take off into the air on their bikes in E.T., the montage shifted to a completely different part of the movie.
Saxophonist Howie Smith was featured during the CATCH ME IF YOU CAN pieces. Along with Mell Csicsila on vibraphone and Ann Gilbert on bass, the trio (backed by the orchestra) made the jazzy “Escapades” come to life. The additional pieces – “Closing In,” “Reflections” and “Joy Ride” – were unnecessary. The music is catchy but not at all iconic. It served mainly as a performance piece for Smith, which is understandable, but the concert could have been better served by including a different movie selection from Williams’ collection.
For me, the highlight of the first act was “The Shark Theme” from JAWS. As Topilow said in his introduction to the piece, who knew two notes could change the face of every college football game? Just hearing those notes, along with the French horn fanfare, makes me picture that giant great white shark lurking below the surface of water as it makes laps around the Orca.
The second act included selections from E.T. and HARRY POTTER, as well as the STAR WARS finale. As “Duel of the Fates” started, the doors on the sides of the stage opened and Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul made their way out for a lightsaber battle! A miniature Yoda crossed the stage waving to the audience during “Yoda” and Darth Vader engaged in a lightsaber battle (albeit a much more watered down battle than the previous one) with a Jedi knight during “Battle of the Heroes.”
Darth Vader and his band of bad guys stormed the stage for the first encore – “Imperial March.” Vader even conducted the piece himself, which means he basically waved his arms in front of a self-sufficient orchestra but at least he was conducting in rhythm. Superman – er, conductor Carl Topilow in costume – took back the stage for the second encore. SUPERMAN, the other assumed-to-be-omitted piece was in the program! C-3PO then made his way on stage carrying Topilow’s clarinet. By design, C-3PO doesn’t have much movement in costume so his journey to the podium and back was tediously slow. Topilow quipped about the droid moving the concert into overtime for being so slow. Once he cleared the stage, the orchestra was free to begin their finale – “Cantina Band” from STAR WARS. The song literally had Stormtroopers dancing in the aisles and the audience clapping along.