For years, Mel Torme's been the man with the voice like velvet fog. Thursday night at Wolf Trap the fog rolled in and the fog rolled out -- but only after hovering over a capacity audience and leaving them with more than two hours of the most delicious musicmaking. None of it would have been possible without the collaboration of the irresistible Cleo Laine and her multitalented husband, John Dankworth.
The evening was a musical extravaganza titled "Broadway and Beyond" because many, but by no means all, of the songs were from hit Broadway musicals.
It was most evidently a labor of love for both Torme and Laine. Each, blessed with the creamiest of voices and long familiarity with the material, caught the sentiment, wit and grace of every number.
Dankworth's arrangements, backed by a band of hand-picked musicians and the entire National Symphony Orchestra, gave the appropriate sizzle or sigh right from the opening medley, which ended with "That's Entertainment," to the closing medley of the show -- a rather witty and often touching arrangement of music from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
While the audience clearly loved Dankworth's big band renditions, it was in the subtle detailing of lines that he really excelled. When Laine sang "Taking a Chance on Love" and broke into a five- or six-note bluesy phrase, Dankworth introduced soft strings to brilliant effect. When Torme launched into "Bye Bye Blackbird," Dankworth accompanied on solo sax, then introduced bass, drums and xylophone until the entire orchestra was playing along. Great layering created magical momentum.
While Dankworth served them well, Torme and Laine clearly were the stars and as such shone most brightly when the arrangements called for a scat treatment. If Torme is king of scat singing, Laine is surely queen. "Lady Be Good" was a show stopper not only because it featured Laine at her most vocally agile but also because it also enabled Torme to sing an equally virtuosic rejoinder.
The whole show was seeded with the kind of favorites that rarely disappoint: "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat," "I've Got a Crush on You," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," "My Boy Bill." Laine's smoldering vocals, Torme's velvet fog and Dankworth's inspired arrangements couldn't fail to provide a memorable evening.