Bernstein’s Wonderful Town (2002)

by | Jan 9, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Bernstein’s Wonderful Town (2002)

Orchestra: Sir Simon Rattle conducts the musical comedy in live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic
Singers: Kim Criswell, Audra McDonald, Thomas Hampson, Brent Barrett/The European Voices dir. by Simon Halsey; Wayne Marshall – piano; The Rascher Saxophone Quartet; Ian Wood, trumpet
Studio: EuroArts 2052298 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 anamorphic, color
Audio: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
No region coding
Subtitles: English, German, French
Length: 76 minutes
Rating: *****

Recorded in Berlin’s Philharmonie Hall with supertitles in German projected above the orchestra, Leonard Bernstein’s jovial musical about the adventures of Eileen and Ruth Sherwood in Greenwich Village fairly bursts with energy and pizazz, and seems to please the majority of the Berlin audience. It all takes place in 1935, which possibly crossed the minds of some in the audience aware that things were not quite the same in Berlin in 1935. Comden and Green’s delightful lyrics still bring a smile, even if they include references to dated cultural icons. Everything is perfectly miked and the DTS track is completely up to communicating the full climaxes of the orchestra, as well as putting the viewer in the midst of the audience.

Leads Audra McDonald and Thomas Hampson are standouts in their roles.  I don’t believe I have ever had such a deep view of a singer’s mouth and throat as the camera gives us of McDonald – you can almost see those vocal chords vibrating. The chorus really joins in, using special choreography created by Candace Allen, especially in the song Conga!, which is reprised as an encore with the entire crew doing a spirited conga line thru the audience with feather boas akimbo. In many ways this concert-dress performance is more fun than the staged and costumed version.  And the performer who seems to be having the most fun of all is Rattle himself – his broad smile and laugh urging on to even higher levels the already enthusiastic chorus and soloists. The strictly instrumental portions of the score, such as The Ballet at the Village Vortex nightclub, really swing – emphasizing all the clever Bernstein syncopations with Germanic precision but never missing the loose jazzy feeling. True, in closeups of the audience there are a few people who look like their Deutsche stolz has been rudely tweaked by this jazzy upstart production, but after all, the occasion was the Berlin Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert!  What a pleasant alternative to the usual Viennese waltz orgy! One would not have thought the Berlin players and chorus could let their hair down so thoroughly, but Berlin has a long history of being the fun capital and this was New Year’s Eve!

— John Sunier

Related Reviews
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
Logo Pure Pleasure