Matt Catingub, who conducted a show called “Glorious Gershwin” Saturday night at Kleinhans Music Hall, is a one-man band all on his own. He can play the sax – Saturday, he contributed a competent sax solo to “Summertime.” He can play the piano. He can sing.
Best of all, he can do Louis Prima.
The highlight of Saturday’s excellent concert, many will agree, came when Catingub joined singer Anita Hall at center stage and began talking about the golden days of Vegas when you would wind up the night in the lounge listening to Prima and Keely Smith.
“Now we’re going to do what they did,” he said.
He can’t, you are thinking. He is not going to do that. But he did!
And he did it masterfully. Catingub looks like Prima, come to think of it, and perhaps he has been polishing this act over the years. In any case, he nailed it, to the tune of an ebullient “Embraceable You.” It was hilarious. Hall, bless her heart, went gamely along with the gag. She was dressed as Keely Smith used to dress, in a flared knee-length skirt, and she played it straight as Catingub hammed it up. The big crowd was in stitches.
The whole night was fun in a wide variety of ways.
Catingub, who last conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in June, is one of the maestros who might end up as our next principal pops conductor. He has the goods. Though his background is Hawaiian – he is the son of singer Mavis Rivers, who was known as Polynesia’s First Lady of Song – he hails from Las Vegas. He’s a fine entertainer and can concoct the kind of variety show that Marvin Hamlisch used to give us.
Hall, who also appeared with him in June, gave engaging and upbeat performances of a wealth of those wonderful George Gershwin tunes, including “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “A Foggy Day in London Town” and “I’ve Got a Crush On You.”
In a delightful surprise move, an octet of students from Fredonia appeared as if by magic in the second half and sang three numbers. Catingub called them the Fredonia Singers, the program called them the Fredonia Voices, and whoever they are, they are probably part of the popular wave of collegiate a cappella groups. Amazingly, this was reportedly their first public performance. They were terrific – smooth, suave and tight as they crooned “Soon” and “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York,” from “Porgy and Bess.” Catingub sang the lead in that one, scooting into their midst with comic grace. After that, the Fredonians gave us “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” with a debonair 1940s feel.
Somewhere along the line, we got to hear a previously unheard Gershwin song that cabaret artist Michael Feinstein supposedly slipped to Catingub. Bruce Johnstone played it on baritone sax. We also got to hear the uplifting romantic theme from “An American in Paris” complete with the previously unpublished lyrics by Ira Gershwin, sung by Catingub and his drummer, Steve Moretti. We heard some great playing from the BPO’s own Sal Andolina. What with all this excitement, it was easy to forget there was a featured soloist. That was pianist Kevin Cole, who played “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Cole is a relatively low-key performer. His modesty is part of his charm. He began the Rhapsody with classical sensibilities, but as the piece went on it gained swing and momentum. The BPO, too, made the most of the moments of soaring romance. Speaking of which, the famous introductory clarinet solo – I am figuring it was played by John Fullam, the BPO’s principal clarinetist – was tremendously down-and-dirty, as thrilling as I have ever heard it. The whole piece got a big hand. After that Cole accompanied Hall in “Someone To Watch Over Me.”
’S wonderful, as the Gershwin song goes. ’S marvelous. ’S one night only, so if you missed it, you’ll have to wait till next time Catingub visits.
With luck, it’ll be soon.