ST. PETERSBURG — Keith Lockhart is often cited for bringing some innovation to symphonic pops programming — such as pairing his Boston Pops Orchestra with the rock band My Morning Jacket — but there was none of that Wednesday night. Instead, Lockhart and the touring version of the Pops, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, played a staunchly traditional program, with a first act of show tunes, followed after intermission by a not particularly well-known singer, Ann Hampton Callaway, and her tribute to Barbra Streisand.
But nobody in the crowd of 1,345 at Mahaffey Theater seemed to mind the lack of adventurousness, as Lockhart and the 80-piece orchestra — the men in white dinner jackets — made like the biggest Broadway pit band around, kicking the evening off with sparkling arrangements of music from Gypsy, West Side Story and A Little Night Music. The concert was the last in a nine-city tour of the Southeast, and if the orchestra seemed a little road-weary, there was no denying the impact of its lush string sound, boosted with slight amplification.
The Streisand theme included a mini-suite of orchestral music by Marvin Hamlisch, her longtime friend and colleague who died last year at 68. Through the Eyes of Love may have had a few audience members scratching their heads — it's from Ice Castles, a figure-skating movie — but there was a big response to the overture to A Chorus Line. It featured an elegant little solo by concertmaster Joe Scheer, whom Tampa Bay area concertgoers with long memories may remember was concertmaster of the Florida Orchestra in the 1990s.
Callaway returned to the Hamlisch songbook in her Streisand segment with an achingly dramatic The Way We Were, an obvious show-stopper but no less effective. She is a smoky jazz singer-songwriter whose connection to her idol is legitimate, having written songs on six Streisand albums, such as At the Same Time, an anthem to world peace that she belted out Wednesday.
Naturally, Callaway offered up the greatest hits, including a brash and brassy Don't Rain on My Parade, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and the ballad that kept countless karaoke bars in business in the '60s, People. But she also satisfied Streisand diehards with numbers like A Piece of Sky from Yentl.
Lockhart, a lithe, deceptively nonchalant figure on the podium, and the Pops wrapped things up with a sizzling 42nd Street — featuring a delightfully goofy tap-dance sequence by one of the percussionists — and the inevitable Stars and Stripes Forever.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.