Play It Again, Marvin! A Marvin Hamlisch celebration – Album review

The music of award-winning composer of Broadway and film, Marvin Hamlisch, has been brought together by Varèse Sarabande, through a special recording of Play It Again, Marvin! in concert this year. First performed in 2014 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and then in 2015 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this latest version has been revised and performed by The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of J. Ernest Green.

Featuring pianist Kevin Cole, singers Sylvia McNair, Judy Harrison & Doug LaBrecque and cellist Adrian Daurov, the concert has been brought together on CD and released by Varèse Sarabande. This amazing collection focuses on the life, and legacy, with a performance full of classic Hamlisch hits, such as ‘The Way We Were’ from The Way We Were, ‘What I Did For Love’ from A Chorus Line, ‘Nobody Does It Better’ from The Spy Who Loved Me and the iconic ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘Pineapple Rag’ from The Sting.

Peter H. Gistelinck, president & CEO of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, talks about the release and his passion for Hamlisch’s work:

“It has been an extreme honor for us to produce this recording. The music of Marvin Hamlisch has always been very dear to my heart and this recording will forever remain engraved in my memory.”

Terre Blair-Hamlisch, wife of Marvin Hamlisch, added:

“It is with my deepest gratitude that I thank The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Peter Gistelinck and Robert Townson for producing such a profound and beautiful recording of Kevin Cole’s PLAY IT AGAIN, MARVIN! A MARVIN HAMLISCH CELEBRATION. This recording captures Marvin’s music beautifully and I know he would be so proud.”

The Review…

There’s a gorgeous, playful exuberance to disk capturing the magic of the concert and the electric reception of its audience. Across nineteen tracks, listeners are treated to a number of timeless, beautiful scores by Marvin Hamlisch, recreating the passion of the movies upon which they are based. There’s a healthy dose of cheesy love songs and crooner voices, jazzy percussion and soaring piano solos that make this a delight to listen to.

It kicks off with ‘The Way We Were’, with a delicate string and wind instruments that are passionate, serene and somewhat haunting too. The playful elegant piano opening of ‘A Chorus Line‘ lead into  mix of slick, cool, jazzy percussion; it’s effortless and fun with a healthy dose of passionate orchestral grandeur, while things take a gentler pace in ‘Dreamers’, with its sweet, beautiful piano and rich vocals. ‘Sunshine Lollipop’ is rather cheesy, but done with a simple crooner style that works.

The fifth track, ‘The Swimmer is stunning, beginning with a breath-taking piano intro, adding gorgeous harps, strings and flute before building into a bombastic mix of percussion, piano and strings. This is followed by ‘Nothing From A Chorus Line’ with a passionate vocal performance and playful percussion beats, while ‘A Mother’s Voice’ is both very cheesy and surprisingly well done, with a sublime duo on vocals and a lovely orchestral backing. Marvin’s piano intro to the eighth track ‘The Entertainer and Pineapple Rag From The Sting’ is delightful and fun, the brass horns, wind instruments and rising strings, build into a grandiose musical medley.

One of my favourite tracks was the rendition of ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (originally performed by Carly Simpson from the best Roger Moore Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me). It really is quite sublime; the beautiful vocals and grand orchestral backing are really given some oomph by the live concert recording. While ‘They’re Playing My Song’ is more simple and cheesy, full of playful acrobatics in the male vocal, ‘I Cannot Hear The City’ from Sweet Smell of Success is breath-taking. The rich, deep male vocal and passionate piano and strings have a real timeless feel and make for a powerhouse of a performance.

‘That’s How I Say Goodbye’ is equally breathtaking with its beautiful vocal duet, while’ If You Really Knew Me’ with Marvin has a very old fashioned, passionate tone. The ‘Theme from Ice Castles‘ is a gentle, beautiful track with an emotional vocal and sweet piano accompaniment. ‘At the Fountain’ from Sweet Smell of Success‘ is a huge musical number with a big ballsy orchestra mixed with reflective moments performed by harp, violins and piano. But it is the grandeur of the dramatic orchestral moments that stand out, accompanied by another stunning, rich, classic vocal performance.

‘Suite from Sophie’s Choice‘ starts slow with a gentle clarinet opening, while the orchestra and vocals kick in half way to deliver a passionate piece overall. ‘Marvin’s Medley’ is another stand out piece, with a stunning piano delivering riffs of all of Marvin’s various works. ‘Bows’ is a jazzy, fun little piece; you can feel the atmosphere of the audience as they cheer throughout, while ‘What I Did For Love’ ends the disk – and the concert – with a grand spectacle and slightly cheesy love song as the audience sings along.

I imagine Play it again, Marvin! in concert would have been a rather fun spectacle for fans of Hamlisch and music alike. You can really feel the magic of the concert in the disk and I think that the audience applause really adds to the majesty of it all. The timelessness of his music is apparent throughout; if you’re a fan of 70’s and 80’s big romantic ballads, 60’s crooners and jazz, this has it all. There is enough of a mix that not every track will be your cup of tea (a few were a little too cheesy for me). But chances are you’ll find something rather special in there too.

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