"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" exclaimed Skitch Henderson as he moved to the piano partway through the opening sequence of his "Hooray for Hollywood" program with the Utah Symphony Friday night.
But if you expected Al Jolson's famous followup line, "You ain't heard nothin' yet," you'd have been disappointed. Instead the former "Tonight" show music director said, "They changed my bloody stage. I don't like that. This is the official beginning now."That wasn't the only surprise of the evening. Later he recalled, "I haven't been here since we did concerts in the temple." (He corrected himself after intermission.) He also departed a bit from the printed program and occasionally mixed up his studios.
(For example, "The Carioca" was not written for a Fox film but for RKO's "Flying Down to Rio," and the movie called "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" was not produced by Paramount but by Universal International.)
Otherwise it was mostly Skitch without a hitch. The orchestra responded strongly to his leadership with lush and frequently sonorous renditions of some of the tunes that made the movies what they are. Or were.
Even Henderson acknowledged much of what we were hearing belonged to a bygone era, underscored by a silent-movie pastiche toward the beginning and his nostaligic recollection of some early Jolson songs ("Mammy," "Toot Toot, Tootsie") and Marlene Dietrich's first big onscreen solo, the haunting "Falling in Love Again," from "The Blue Angel."
The last was served up in reflective fashion by Henderson at the keyboard. Elsewhere he offered a pair of Gus Khan and Vincent Youmans medleys, Henry Mancini's "Moon River" - "a little extra surprise for you," he said with a wink - and that quintessential French song, "Mimi," which may have been written by Rodgers and Hart but will always belong to Maurice Chevalier, whose unhappy postwar career Henderson likewise recalled.
Another surprise from the keyboard was David Raksin's "Laura," followed by a Disney medley embracing both the sentimental ("When You Wish Upon a Star") and the energetic ("The Mickey Mouse Club" song).
At 75, Henderson himself still displays a lot of energy, whether directing from the podium or, as in the next sequence, offering a lively piano-and-orchestra treatment of "Arrivederci Roma." That was filled out by his own music for the Moss Hart biopic "Act One" ("The picture itself," Henderson observed, "was a disaster") and a performance of the "Trolley Song" from "Meet Me in St. Louis" that really did capture the old MGM sound.
A quartet of what Henderson called "accidental hits" showcased the orchestra in the airy woodwind solos of "Alfie" and the resonant low brass of "Exodus," here put across in epic style.
Even more strongly urged, and rhythmed, was the aforementioned "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," followed by an encore Henderson explained was "for joggers," the main theme of "Chariots of Fire."
Which did a little more to unite past and present, even if it wasn't quite the temple. I mean the Tabernacle.