It's Good to Misbehave with the Orlando Philharmonic

I sat in on a rehearsal for the Philharmonic’s last pops concert of the season, presented twice Saturday, in which the orchestra was joined by a trio of charismatic and multi-talented guests: Tony DeSare, an acclaimed jazz vocalist and pianist; Bria Skonberg, who sings and plays trumpet; and John Manzari, who sings and tap dances.

With guest conductor Michael Krajewski, the trio led the musicians through a dazzling parade of great standards from the pen of Porter, that most witty composer. And the wit of his work came through in the performances.

Many of the program’s thrills came from the unexpected. “Night and Day” had a peppier reading than is often heard. Manzari sang the opening of “I Love Paris” before turning it into a tap-dance tribute to the city. That led into a DeSare original, “Paris Will Always Have You,” which illustrates the crooner’s ability to spin a story through music. Did it seem out of place among the Porter masterpieces? Not at all.

Confident in his own charm, DeSare has a smooth, seductive voice that might make those of a certain age recall the Rat Pack era.

Equally charming: Manzari, whose steps put extra kick into an already zippy “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

Skonberg impressed with her ability to go back and forth between trumpet and vocals with barely a chance to catch her breath (she and Manzari must be doing aerobic training together). Her trumpet sometimes takes the lead and sometimes provides echoes and flourishes, such as in a grand “It’s All Right With Me.”

On “I Concentrate on You,” Skonberg showed slinky intonation — and super breath control — before the song segued into “True Love” and creamy harmonies with DeSare.

The Philharmonic musicians, joined by a guitar-bass-drum trio, easily changed moods with the tunes: Dramatic here, playful there.

For “Too Darn Hot,” Skonberg’s voice took on a breathy quality that gave way to a heat that matched the deep-red lighting flooding the musicians. On “Have a Little Heart,” one of her originals, Skonberg showed that she gets as much emotion out of her trumpet as her voice.

A second-act treat: A galloping version of “Don’t Fence Me In,” which I forgotten among his endless list of hits was one of Porter’s creations. DeSare’s vocals took a break for a piano interlude that would have fit right in an Old West honkytonk.

In one particularly striking segment, Manzari’s tapping feet completed the rhythmic phrases coming from both DeSare’s keyboard and Skonberg’s horn. He has a knack for leaps and stylish slides that give his tapping a more freestyle feel than strictly regimented dance.

Things wrapped up with the infectious joy of “Let’s Misbehave.” If this is the thrill of misbehaving, then I’m all for it.

Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel
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