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TONI TENNILLE SHOWCASES HER LOVE AFFAIR WITH LOVE SONGS

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Toni Tennille has traveled back in time since her Captain and Tennille days. Back, in fact, to the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s.

Her appearance with the Utah Symphony Friday night was a mini-tour of Broadway's best-loved musicals, with songs written by such luminaries as Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, and Hoagie Carmichael and Mitchell Parrish.The night's theme was "love": young love, torch songs, funny love and "older and hopefully wiser" love. With her sleek and glittery white gown, big smile, theatrical gestures and big but husky voice, the scene could easily have been a dark, intimate little nightclub, instead of Abravanel Hall.

Only once did the audience see any vestige of the Tennille they'd come to know from the radio play and variety shows of the 1970s. She broke character for a moment to sing "Love Will Keep Us Together."

For the most part, she dished up a warm serving of the songs she grew up with and loves. Her father was a big band member who played with Bob Cosby and His Bobcats during the 1930s. She grew up with tunes like "Makin' Whoopee" and "Beautiful Baby."

It was, perhaps fittingly, a "love-ly" performance. Personally, I longed for a bit more variety, like some of the songs that put her on the musical map. Most of the songs were slow and mournful, showcasing that big voice. As big as it was, it wasn't capable, at times, of rising above the brass section, which drowned her out two or three times. On a couple of songs - "Moonglow" and her "young love" medley - every breath she took came through the microphone loud and clear.

The audience had definite favorites: "The Lamp Is Low" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," from "Showboat."

Tennille travels with her own drummer, John Perett, and pianist Kathy Rubbicco (who was featured on a stunning solo). She also brings along her conductor, Rusty Higgins, of Les Brown's Band of Renown.

The first half of the show featured the Utah Symphony, conducted by associate conductor Robert Henderson, performing a heart-stopping rendition of Suppe's "Overture to Poet and Peasant." (Younger members of the audience, Henderson pointed out, would recognize parts of the overture as background music during adventure cartoons. He was right.)

The symphony never sounded better, from Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" to Jobim's "Girl from Ipanema," evocative of hot nights, wild flowers and flaring red dresses. The medley from "The Sound of Music" was superb. In fact, they were outstanding throughout the program.

Both Henderson and Tennille have mastered the art of the introduction, telling enough about each piece to make it interesting and familiar, without distracting from the musical feast.