In a celebration of show tunes, conductor Skitch Henderson took the Utah Symphony on a nostalgic coast-to-coast journey Friday and Saturday at Abravanel Hall.

Concertgoers found a musician who enjoys his work, has been arranging, conducting and composing just more than half a century. He also loves to drop names and is comfortable with the old familiar show tunes.That doesn't mean Henderson didn't play some of the new stuff, though he included only one Andrew Lloyd Webber piece from "Cats," but he did bring along arrangements of several modern Disney tunes from "Aladdin," "Lion King" and Beauty and the Beast."

For the orchestra, it was a night to sit back, have some fun and move on. Except for a percussionist who had to snap his fingers throughout "Begin the Beguine," no one hardly worked up a sweat. Friday's performance was silky smooth, and Henderson & Co. blended song after song into a tapestry of American cinema and Broad-way reminiscences.

After the first three numbers concluding with "Paper Moon," Henderson observed the late arrivals entering the hall. "They always sit in the center don't they?" he declared to applause.

Henderson also put his baton aside to play several tunes on the grand piano and even led the orchestra at eye level, once or twice. He packed a lot into the promised two-hour performance time.

As a conductor, Henderson left his music score book closed much of the evening. He has an economic delivery, conducting with short, choppy strokes with the baton and seldom moving more than his wrist through many long passages.

It's obvious Henderson cares deeply for the music he presented. He commented several times about where he was when he first heard a particular piece and what stars and musicians he was working with at the time. And he did it in a way not to be boastful or merely to drop names, but matter-of-factly.

He saved his most critical comments for Lloyd Webber, whom he termed "the sacred cow of world of finance." One wonders if it's only professional jealousy of LLoyd Webber's success or merely admiration for a talented colleague.

Henderson's devotion to Jerome Kern's "Showboat" was evident, too, drawing each section of the orchestra out to punctuate the various moods of the overture. "Wasn't that better than Lloyd Webber?" he asked. The fact that "Showboat" is back on Broadway these days should give him that answer.

Henderson's second half was devoted to music from the movies, including the MGM introductory clarion before "Laura" and several tunes from Richard Rodgers. Henderson substituted a touching piano solo of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for the "Trolley Song" and ended the evening with "Dance of the Comedians," "Lonely Town" and Elgar's "Wild Bears."

If there was a disappointment, it was only that the house was about three-quarters full - for an entertainment series concert. But afterward there were smiles all around and lots of feel-good discussion. Altogether a satisfying prelude to the holiday season.