Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 16, 2008

At the Copa & SSO

Symphony Hall, Springfield
By Shera Cohen

Gary Mauer, solo performer with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra as back-up “band” – and what a fabulous back-up it was – did great justice to Barry Manilow in his “At the Copa” tribute. This first in the season’s SSO Pops Series staged an excellent flowing balance of the crooner’s most recognizable music. Interspersed were vignettes about the pop singer’s unexpected and slow rise to fame, fortune, and millions of female (especially) followers.

Mauer did not look, dress, or sound like Manilow. He didn’t walk the stage, run down the aisles, or work the room a la Manilow. None of these look-alike and act-alike methods was attempted. That was a good choice. Whatever listeners think of the “real McCoy,” even naysayers would agree that the voice, delivery, and staging of Manilow cannot be duplicated. So why try? Manilow does a show, with a capital “S,” and Mauer did a concert. One welcome similarity was the enunciation of the lyrics – thank you. The two presentations are decidedly different, and each man is talented in his own ballpark.

Mauer arrived with a lot of impressive credentials from Broadway and touring companies. It was no surprise that he had appeared in such mega-hits as “Phantom” and “Les Miz,” since both musicals require excellent trained voices, wide range of interpretation, and a strong hold of those long finale notes. While at times in the first part of the concert the sound system on the singer’s mic was too strong, this flaw was corrected. Mauer had his own style with a few variations in arrangements. He especially shined for the upbeat “Could It Be Magic,” thoughtful “I Made It Through the Rain,” and emotional “This One’s for You.” The latter was written as a memorial to his grandfather – not his typical love song – and in knowing this, had more depth of meaning.

Conductor Nyela Basney was fine and unobtrusive at the podium. Yet, one could not help but wonder where Kevin Rhodes was. He was missed. Mauer’s work was a sincere tribute to Barry.