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music review

Pops opens its 129th season

Before there was George Costanza, sitcom icon, there was Jason Alexander, Tony winner and Sondheim flop survivor. And it was that latter Alexander, the one who was captivated by the stage from the moment he saw “The Music Man” at age 5, who helped usher in the Boston Pops’ 129th season Wednesday night at Symphony Hall.

The season’s theme is “The Very Best of the Boston Pops,” or what conductor Keith Lockhart summed up as “great American music.” A trio of works dealt in orchestral majesty, from Aaron Copland’s “Buckaroo Holiday” (opening the concert with a canter that gave way to a saunter and then a lope) to “Largo” from Antonín Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” (the woodwinds wafting gently as the strings softly pulled and swayed before turning turbulent) to John Williams’s “Jurassic Park” theme.

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A spirited “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” meanwhile, stretched the Pops’ jazz muscles, which hit full flower with “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” The marvelous arrangement (by Dave Brubeck’s son Chris) transferred the piano lines to strings added both a Spanish and a Gershwinian flavor, while the transitions between time signatures were imperceptible. “Dancing Queen,” meanwhile, was less successful.

Alexander then showed off his Broadway bona fides, though not always in ways that fit in well with the Pops. He relied on showmanship more often than not, to mixed results. His delivery was stagy on the frenetic “Shiksa Goddess” and the orchestral adult pop of “Anytime (I Am There).” He also lacked the sharp enunciation and general slickness to deliver “(Ya Got) Trouble” with the necessary authority.

He was more compelling on a handful of songs from Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” Alexander’s first Broadway show (which closed in two weeks). And his hamming it up served him well on a medley of songs he claimed producers deemed him inappropriate for. Pulling out a collection of wigs and props, he tore through “Gethsemane,” “Defying Gravity,” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and others with comic gusto. For his headshot for “A Chorus Line,” he held up George’s boudoir photo from “Seinfeld.” Theater may be ephemeral, but reruns last forever.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
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