By Jeff Britton
On a pleasant spit of land behind the Convention Center sits Marina Park South, the ideal place for the San Diego Pops summer season. Every weekend through Labor Day, conductor Matthew Garbutt and the symphony present light classical fare for cool nights, then follow it up with world renowned headliners. Each concert is topped off with a spectacular fireworks display over Coronado.
We caught Dionne Warwick’s recent gig with the orchestra and quickly got into the laid-back groove, complete with food, drinks and folks intent on a no-fuss kind of good time.
Sycuan Casino, one of the symphony’s sponsors, set the carnival atmosphere with its free wheel of fortune where patrons could spin for one of several prizes. Some concertgoers brought picnic baskets, others opted for the extensive snack bar, while those up front in the champagne section enjoyed full-course meals and a complete bar menu delivered promptly to the table.
As the orchestra struck up with Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture,” a Hornblower cruise ship laden with gawking tourists glided by, undoubtedly fascinated by the big amplified sound as they headed to port. The infectious jazz rhythms evoked New York’s Tin Pan Alley as the sun was setting incongruously over Point Loma.
After intermission, Warwick sauntered onstage in a striking gray, pink and red silk pantsuit, opening with a sultry “Close To You,” one of many Burt Bacharach hits which have defined her very successful career.
Her range is a little lower than in past years, but she still has the moxie to make those beloved Grammy-winning songs come to life. Numbers as varied as “Walk On By,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven” condensed into a swiftly-moving medley.
She altered the tempo of “I Say a Little Prayer” to an infectious bossa nova beat, followed by a slowed-down version of “Alfie” that rang with a special poignancy. But she really got things moving with the samba rhythms of a Brazilian medley, some of which she sang in Portuguese. Then back to Bacharach with “What the World Needs Now,” “That’s What Friends are For” and the irresistible crescendo of “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again.”
It all made for a beautiful evening, which incidentally went smoothly since we took the trolley and avoided the post-concert bottleneck in the parking structures.
The rest of the lineup this summer looks just as festive. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. will take you “Up, Up and Away” with their Fifth Dimension hits on July 24 and 25, followed by Cirque de la Symphonie July 31 and Aug. 1, whose death-defying feats give new meaning to the music of Khachaturian, Ravel, John Williams and more.
Bravo Broadway Now! (Aug. 7 and 8), A Night in Italy (Aug 9), the Classical Mystery Tour (Aug. 14 and 15), Burt Bacharach (Aug. 16), Jose Feliciano (Aug. 21 and 22), The Music of the Doors (Aug. 27), Melissa Manchester (Aug. 28 and 29) and the Labor Day weekend finale of the 1812 Overture Spectacular with an even bigger fireworks display (Sept. 4, 5 and 6) round out the lineup. If one of those doesn’t float your boat, check your pulse.
Information and tickets: www.sandiegosymphony.com or (619) 235-0804.