Dallas — To arrange the music of Motown in a symphonic setting is to present the catalogue as it is truly meant to be heard—each distinctively rich layer of writing fully formed and resonant, sweeping and bright. The energizing tangibility of vibrating wood, brass, and strings provides life and a vibrancy that, when set against the soulful, jazzy, funk of this particular music, yields a characteristically timeless appeal.
So, it is little wonder that the Meyerson Symphony Center was packed to near capacity Friday night for Dancing in the Street: The Music of Motown, which opened Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-‘20 Pops series.
It is a program that is designed with a sense of fun and timelessness at its center, and conductor Jeff Tyzik’s arrangements of classic selections keeps the energy running from start to finish. And it is the guest vocalists, and their thoughtful treatment of each number, that fill the hall with the dynamism of the greats, like Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder.
Opening the program with the titular popular dance track “Dancing in the Street,” made famous by Martha Reeves, singer Celisse Henderson slams down a robust display of vocal prowess. She is a full and agile mezzo, equally warm in tone and in character, with a soulfulness that fits perfectly in the rep. Her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” is just the right amount of boisterous, insisting on getting the body up and moving.
Soloist Chester Gregory brings all the energy and showmanship of his Broadway career to the stage on numbers like “Just to See Her” and the ubiquitously favorited “My Girl.” His mellow, charismatic tenor and sweet, effortless falsetto serve in convincing coordination with stylish dance moves, invoking all the bravura of Smokey and The Temptations.
Bernard Holcomb is an affectionate and conscious steward of the material. He’s an endearing presence on stage, with a control that must stem from his operatic background. With a bright rounded lyric baritone, he finesses James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (a number that also includes a positively sensual tenor sax solo) and provides the evening’s emotional highlight with a lovely interpretation of “Song for You,” as performed by Donny Hathaway.
Tyzik is consistently enjoyable to both the eyes and ears as a conductor and bandleader. In moments, he steps down from the podium to address certain sections directly, pulling out all the body and soul from every player. In their pop series performances, the DSO routinely demonstrates pointed musicianship and thoughtful artistry. This program, however, seems to draw out a little extra. It’s the fullness of joy and color that can only be obtained by dozens of skilled artists and musicians working in tight coordination that gives the music of Motown its distinctiveness and charm. In the hands of the DSO and the featured guest soloists, Dancing in the Street has shown itself to be a clear winner, made evident by the countless smiles and jiving bodies throughout each aisle of the hall.