Weekend in review: From 'Zippy the Pinhead' to the BSO
As for the slender new musical, which has a score by Baltimore-based composer Lorraine Whittlesey and a book she co-wrote with the creator of the Zippy comic strip, Bill Griffith, I imagine it would appeal more to longtime fans of the source material. Except for "Doonesbury," my comic-reading stopped quite a while ago, and I confess that I never did much warm to "Zippy" back in the day.
That said, I can appreciate the strip's blend of the goofy, the ironic, the droll and the surreal, and those elements certainly do exist in the musical. Not, alas, in sufficient quantities to grab much interest, even with a very short running time -- an hour, including intermission. Not really much humor, either, although a few Baltimore references and the video projections throughout were fun.
A more professional performance level would no doubt have helped sell the show; the singing, in particular, left a lot to be desired.
The best efforts came from
Ryan Patrick Brown in the title role. He seemed perfectly at home in Zippy's off-kilter, donut- and condiment-obsessed world.
Speaking of condiments, Whittlesey's song about those -- set to the model-major-general patter number from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" -- was a highlight of the score. The rest of the songs utilized primarily '50s and '60s rock idioms to apt effect. Jared Denhard's expert arrangements, which included unexpected colors from the ukulele, gave all the songs a lift, as did his well-matched colleagues in the band.
Sunday afternoon's BSO concert was richly satisfying. Gunther Herbig, one of the elder statesmen of the podium, demonstrated his customary depth of expression and sensitivity to detail.
Herbig had the orchestra producing the refined, transparent colors of Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite with an enveloping glow, and he offered smooth support for soloist Tianwa Yang in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1. Yang did not produce an especially distinctive tone or reveal the most individualistic phrasing, but she met the technical challenges effortlessly in the scherzo and captured the ethereal lyricism of the outer movements effectively.
The orchestra, which did subtle work in the concerto, moved into high gear for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, one of the most affecting works of 20th century orchestral music. Herbig, conducting from memory, seemed deeply connected to the composer's world of shadows, fears and unexpected relief; each movement was shaped with telling nuance.
The BSO always turns in strong performances when working with Herbig, and this concert was no exception. The musicians demonstrated as much technical discipline as searing emotional power, reaching the sort of soulful state that reminded me of the Temirkanov era here.
SUN FILE PHOTO OF ZIPPY COMIC STRIP (a Baltimore reference in 2007); PHOTO OF TIANWA YANG (by Heiko Rogge) COURTESY OF TIANWAYANG.COM