BILLINGS, MT — Award‐winning composer Marvin Hamlisch led the Billings Symphony Orchestra at ABT’s 25th anniversary celebration Saturday night.
On his way out of the Alberta Bair Theater Saturday night, longtime supporter and onetime ABT marketing director Corby Skinner reminisced about performing in “A Chorus Line” at the theater 25 years ago.
That made hearing Marvin Hamlisch, the composer for “A Chorus Line,” perform melodies from the award‐winning musical Saturday that much more exciting for Skinner and undoubtedly many others in the audience. It was an evening for nostalgia and celebration.
“It’s an honor to be associated with the Alberta Bair Theater,” said Wayne Hirsch, immediate past president of the ABT board of directors.
Just as they did 25 years ago for the ABT’s opening night concert featuring Burt Bacharach, many members of the audience arrived Saturday in tuxedos and evening gowns. But there were also cowboy hats and blue jeans, and as Hamlisch introduced his closing number, he came out in a new black cowboy hat.
“I always end with this song. I didn’t write it, but I like to end with it because it gives us hope,” Hamlisch said as he directed the BSO in a lush version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.“It was a rare serious moment for Hamlisch, who had spent most of the 2½‐hour concert cracking jokes and telling anecdotes about his 45 years in the business. As he had throughout the evening, Hamlisch alternated between playing the melody on the piano and standing at the podium to direct the orchestra. Sometimes he directed with his left hand and played piano with his right.
Hamlisch proved a nimble performer. He proved just how spontaneous he could be when he called for suggestions for a song title from the audience.
“A lot of people ask, ‘How do you write a song?’ I always start with a title,” Hamlisch said.
Taking an audience member’s suggestion of “Beartooths,” Hamlisch came up with a jazzy melody and lyrics about Billings and the Beartooths, which he sang to the audience.
“If you want me baby, take me to the Beartooths and I’ll do anything for you,” went the song.
The 67‐year‐old music icon was never pompous, but stories about his life and career included an impressive cast of characters from Groucho Marx to Barbra Streisand and Neil Simon.
When Hamlisch introduced “My Fair Lady” in the first half of the concert, he said got the record when he was 12.
He’s lived most of his life in New York City and admired musicals, especially “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady.” In the middle of the medley from “My Fair Lady,” BSO concert master Randy Tracy played violin with Hamlisch at the piano on the sentimental “I Could Have Danced All Night” and you could almost picture this 12‐year‐old kid playing his piano along with his new record.
Hamlisch had described his show as if he and the audience were spending an evening together in his living room. He made good on that promise with a comfortable yet memorable evening.
“I’m getting into this town,” Hamlisch said. “People come up to me, saying ‘Thank you for coming.’ I’m saying to them, ‘Thank you for inviting me.’ I really like it here.”
Thank you Jerry for your kind remarks:
From: Jerry M
Subject: Loved It in Billings!!!
Just a brief note to tell you how much I enjoyed the show you did in Billings, MT last night. I played 3rd trumpet in the orchestra, and I must confess that at times I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of your music, your persona, the way you talked with the audience, the little tidbits of advice you imparted, your humor, etc. — the whole spirit of the show — that I shed a few tears. The show was so “right”, so moving. I also loved the way you related with our orchestra — not arrogant — just forthright and professional. You are such an admirable human being. My wife played 1st flute. Just wanted you to know that your presence made a real impact on us. We talked about you for hours after the show — not wanting to let go of the wonderful feelings you brought to us. You went straight to our hearts. So THANK YOU.
Source: Jaci Webb, Billings Gazette. Jan. 15, 2012