I approached the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's recent pops season opener with no small degree of skepticism. The concert, titled “Disco Days and Boogie Nights,” was a gigantic leap for someone whose comfort zone lies more in the music of Brahms, Bartok and Barber.
But one thing I've learned about attending concerts programmed and conducted by Jack Everly is that regardless of the thematic content, the music will be handled with a professionalism that extends to high quality orchestral arrangements, talented featured soloists and a disarming sense of humor that gently satirizes an era's musical excesses.
And so, with some cleverly reworked lyrics to “The Brady Bunch” theme music, audiences learned how “Disco Days and Boogie Nights” came to be. Everly also put listeners in the proper state of mind for a concert whose music was produced in the decade that saw leisure suits, pet rocks, gas for 90 cents a gallon and no liquor by the drink.
Before the evening had concluded, patrons were treated to more than four dozen tunes from the '70s, a mix of the outrageous and the silly, but also the poignant and even a few that deserve to be called standards.
A group of young vocalists who call themselves Chapter 6 began this nostalgic journey with a Bee Gees medley, complete with singing in falsetto and the humorous choreography that accompanied tunes such as “Night Fever” and “Staying Alive.”
On television, the 1970s saw the proliferation of sung themes, an approach the cast of nine singers reinforced with such examples as “The Muppet Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Jeffersons.”
If disco-influenced tunes such as “It's Raining Men” and “Last Dance” thrust the evening into high gear rhythmically, Marvin Hamlisch's “The Way We Were” and John Lennon's “Imagine” gave the evening a pair of beautiful and wistful melodies.
“The Way We Were” opened atmospherically enough but as the music broadened, Farah Alvin pushed too hard, which produced a strident sound due to excess amplification. Everly's instrumental arrangement of “Imagine” had many nice coloristic touches, including solos for English horn and viola.
Jarrett Johnson channeled Stevie Wonder in “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” while N'Kenge scored a hit with Roberta Flack's sultry “Killing Me Softly.” Anne Nicole Beck got some well-earned laughs in Cher's “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.”
When a guy dressed as a cop issued Everly a ticket, the conductor asked if he had been speeding through the Disco Divas medley. The humorous moment quickly segued into the rousing “YMCA,” a huge audience favorite.
The singers appeared in neon colored outfits for a lively ABBA medley while the orchestra illustrated the diversity of the era's film scores, from the touching “Evergreen” and “Brian's Song” to the menacing “Jaws” and the triumphant “Rocky.”
The vocalists nicely captured the tuneful appeal of the Carpenters while Chapter 6 scored big with an a cappella version of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with instrumental licks imitated by the singers. One final medley of hits from the 1970s incorporated Helen Reddy's “I Am Woman” and Diana Ross' “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” to Melissa Manchester's “Don't Cry Out Loud” and Queen's “We Are the Champions.”
Everly and company proved that while the '70s may have been embarrassing from a fashion standpoint, that era's music had ample redeeming qualities. Dressed in first-rate orchestrations, these tunes made this nostalgic journey back through time enormously appealing.
— Rick Rogers