MUSIC REVIEW: Cleveland Pops New Years Eve by Lisa DeBenedictis

Sat 12/31

The Cleveland Pops Orchestra presented the best New Year’s Eve party and concert in Northeast Ohio in their New Year’s Eve Celebration with the music of James Bond on Saturday, December 31 at Severance Music Center.

Renowned conductor Carl Topilow led his orchestra in an exhilarating concert of movie themes and popular works connected to the films of James Bond. Maestro Topilow is renowned worldwide for his versatility and showmanship. His vibrancy, verve and enthusiasm made him a perfect choice to ring in this new year after a three-year pandemic hiatus. Maestro Topilow is equally at home in both classical and popular music.

This rousing concert blended the music of Broadway and Hollywood with two stellar vocalists joining his outstanding ensemble. Topilow’s unique approach to pops programming included festive lighting, audience involvement and marvelous showmanship.

The audience cheered at the iconic opening of 007 themes, arranged by Calvin Custer. They swayed in time to the music and enjoyed themselves as much as the musicians. Morgan James, a Broadway veteran, then took to the stage with a beguiling rendition of “Goldfinger” on a golden lit stage. She was followed by Broadway’s charismatic Hugh Panaro belting out “Luck Be a Lady” and “That Old Black Magic.” Morgan James finished the first half in a new glamorous gown with show-stopping versions of “For Your Eyes Only” and Bacharach’s “The Look of Love.”

Both Panaro and James broke hearts after intermission. Panaro first, with Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” and earning a standing ovation with his incredibly seductive rendition of Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall,” sung in the difficult falsetto range. Ms. James then returned with two more costume changes to perform Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does It Better” and in a penultimate duet with Panaro singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The two returned again for a stirring encore performance of Adele’s “Skyfall.”

The concert was only the start of the celebration that continued with dancing through the night on two different levels, with Topilow’s Cleveland Pops Jazz Ensemble and the Cleveland rock band, Replay the Band, while counting down to the spectacular midnight balloon drop.

[Written by Lisa DeBenedictis]

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