Tex Beneke Orchestra March 21, 2010
By Glen Creason
With any big band concert hereabouts you have to judge the show by the “murmur factor.” That is when the bandleader announces the tune and the rumble of recognition rolls through the audience. On the Sunday matinee of the Tex Beneke Orchestra at the Performing Arts Center that murmur factor was heard often, sometimes even progressing into some off-key singing that came forth when the memories flooded from the stage. Of course, any of these recreations of the great music of the 1930s and 1940s travel on a tightrope between nostalgia and cruise ship mediocrity but the evergreen music can never be underestimated.
At Cerritos, the concert was pretty much divided into five parts and the whole was anchored by the really fine fifteen piece orchestra that most certainly could play everything from swing to ballad and never did they hit a sour note. The horn section, always at the core of big band was excellent and since Ted Beneke’s band was a branch off the Glenn Miller ensemble the trombones were essential and wonderful. The band got help from three proficient singers and a well-known quartet who brought the murmurs out when they opened up the old treasure chests of song, polishing up over two dozen gems in all.
Ageless and energetic Mary Lou Metzger opened the show and sang “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” after raising the curtain with the appropriate “When Everything That’s Old Is New Again.” The first big murmur came with “Moonlight Serenade,” a song that they will most certainly love five hundred years from now if the planet is still together then. The crowd, drawn from the early Boomers and before couldn’t get enough of the good old ones, including “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” and “Pennsylvania 6-500” that they joyfully participated in with creaky but enthusiastic sing-a-longs. “The Modernaires” hit the stage and kept the classics rolling with “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Elmer’s Tune,” “Moonlight Cocktail” “At Last,” Chattanooga Choo Choo and “Perfidia” before the orchestra finished the first half with a rousing “American Patrol.
The second half was more of yesterday, this time with the help of pert Polly Podewell who belted out “Sing Me a Swing Song,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and helped the band through the wonders of “Tuxedo Junction” and the all-time evergreen “In the Mood.” The rest of the afternoon fell to Mister Buddy Greco, who at 83 seems to be just getting started. His voice may not be what it once was but his fingers on the keyboard must have been dipped in Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth. This portion was a departure from the big band feel but the audience ate it up. Greco had the benefit of a truly grand piano and his readings of “Around the World,” the gorgeous “It Might Be You” and the show closing “McArthur Park” were beyond amazing. Throughout the sound of the orchestra was full and strong but not loud enough to oppress the ears, even of those who have heard a note or two million along the decades.