The Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College led its the audience for its first Pops concert of the season along the Yellow Brick Road for an evening showcasing "The Wonderful Music of Oz."
This program, presented Friday and Saturday at the VanTrease PACE, was created by Scott Coulter, a New York-based performer who has become a regular guest artist with the orchestra, and features a sampling of songs that have, in one way or another, been inspired by L. Frank Baum's classic fantasy, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
These ranged from the obvious — the songs made famous by the 1939 film adaptation and the standards that "Wicked," the revisionist "origin story" of the Wicked Witch of the West, added to the repertoire — to numbers with a more tangential relationship to Baum's story.
Coulter finds ways in his between-songs patter to link Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "The Muppets Movie" theme "The Rainbow Connection" into the whole. And the evening happily includes several numbers from Charlie Smalls' "The Wiz," the mid-1970s musical that put an urban, African-American spin on the Oz story.
Coulter, perhaps not surprisingly, gave himself some of the showiest songs — a slowed-down, torch-song treatment of "If I Only Had a Brain," accompanied by pianist John Boswell; an earnest rendition of "The Rainbow Connection," that traded the naive optimism of the original for a rueful world-weariness; and a "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" that pushed him to the limits of his vocal register.
Fortunately, on this last number, his fellow vocalists Blaine Krauss and Kelli Rabke supplied some spot-on harmonies that lifted the chorus like the Wizard's hot-air balloon.
Rabke was tasked with much of the material from "Wicked," including "The Wizard and I" and "Popular," a song that no performer, no matter how talented, will ever eclipse the imprint Kristin Chenoweth put on it. One notable exception was "Defying Gravity," with Krauss delivering a fine version of a song that neve fails to send chills up the spine.
The orchestra, under the direction of Andrés Franco, was featured in the opening medley "Overture to Oz/Chasing Rainbows" and creating the "Cyclone" from the 1939 movie.
The evening closed out with the finale from "The Wiz," a song called "Home" that Coulter said was really the theme of the Oz story, a tale about people discovering what home truly is, and its importance in their lives — "whether it is a place," he said, "or a group of people, may you find where home is for you."
For an encore, the company began with a second rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that segued into "Brand New Day" from "The Wiz."