Brandenburg Productions, Inc.
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The Evening Sun

Baltimore, Friday, February 5, 1988

 

 

MEDIA MONITOR / Steve McKerrow

 

Tony Bennett opens new Wolf Trap series

 

        Given the fairly spectacular way Maryland Public Television handled its three-hour live national broadcast of Baltimore’s New Year’s Eve celebration – not to mention MPT’s national Emmy Award in 1986 for “Wolf Trap Presents the Kirov: Swan Lake”– this should be no surprise.

      Still, it is hard to imagine how tonight’s “Tony Bennett On Stage at Wolf Trap,” the season premiere of the performance series MPT produces from the Virginia performing arts center, could be better.  (It airs at 9 on Channels 22 and 67 and at 10 elsewhere on the PBS network.)

     OK, fans of the pop singer who has been called the best in the business by some of his peers (such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby) might not hear a particular favorite from his repertoire.

      But otherwise, the guy is just allowed to do what he does best, and that is to sing; to sing with that strong, lyrical voice that has made him a star since Bob Hope took him on tour for the first time in 1949 with Les Brown and his Band of Renown.

      With Bennett backed up by the Ralph Sharon Trio, featuring Sharon’s impeccable piano lines, Bennett offers a swell video concert.  Not only does television not get in the way, as it so often does in reproducing performances, it subtly enhances the illusion of sitting in the Wolf Trap Barns, through what could be called camera choreography.

      Bennett is a very unphysical performer, not moving much, so static camera shots would be boring to watch, however good the music.  We expect from TV something to at least engage the eye.

      Thus an almost unnoticeable array of movements, such as slow zooms in and out, nicely placed cuts from one camera to another and politely restrained shots of the audience provide just enough illusion of action to keep us watching as well as listening.

      The production even manages to showcase Bennett’s other art form: his painting under his real name, Anthony Benedetto.  As he sings “Stranger in Paradise,” a selection of his arresting realistic images appears in the corner of the screen and then zooms out to fill the frame.

      In one particularly impressive moment, a painting of yellow taxi cabs on a New York street dissolves into a film sequence of Bennett painting in his Manhattan apartment, while cabs stream along in the street below.

      And yes, Bennett does sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the closing number of his encore.

      Future shows this spring in the Wolf Trap series (all taped last year, like the Bennett show) will showcase James Galway and the Chieftains, The Canadian Brass and Maureen McGovern.