There couldn't have been more "circumstance" surrounding the 215th-anniversary celebration of the U.S. Navy at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Tuesday night, but there could have been more "pomp."
The U.S. Navy Band played with clear military exactness; Cmdr. Philip Howard Field directed with impressive precision; but the overall event lacked the kind of passion that sends ships to sea.
Part of the problem lay in the Navy's choice of narrator for the event. Chuck Norris, star in a glut of martial arts movies, would seem by any measure to be a suitably hearty candidate for setting the evening's patriotic tone. But Norris, who has had more practice kicking foes than praising heroes, had problems. When he wasn't bobbling his lines, he was reciting them with evident lack of practice. And when, during his big recitation "I Am the American Sailor," he miscued his entry with the orchestra, he giggled. Even making movies with his hands, he should know that's a no-no.
Norris aside, there was much to praise. Bernstein's Overture to "Candide," for example, though lacking expansiveness in the broader strokes, was richly detailed in the blazing allegro sections; selections from "Les Miserables," "Guys and Dolls" and "Oklahoma!" were sung with talent and zest by the Navy's Sea Chanters Chorus. One of the highlights of the evening was hearing Lt. Ralph M. Gambone direct Copland's "Hoedown" from "Rodeo," to which the Navy Band -- and the audience -- seemed particularly responsive.
But the best was neither a big arrangement nor a firebrand but a softly simple arrangement of "Eternal Father" sung by the Naval Academy Glee Club under the direction of John Talley. Sometimes known as "For Those in Peril on the Sea," the hymn has a piquancy that perhaps can be fully understood only by those who have served -- but it fired all our imaginations.