It's been hard to escape the face of George Takei, Lt. Sulu of the original sci-fi TV series Star Trek in the many months the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) has been touting its Sci-Fi Spectacular opening this weekend. He's been on billboards and buses, print ads and articles as the face of this Pops Series show. Audience members were pumped to see Sulu in person and hear his rich bass voice.
Despite this, Takei did not appear on stage until 45 minutes into Friday night's concert. It was too long a wait.
Not to take away from entertaining guest conductor Jack Everly, principal pops conductor of the Baltimore and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, who led the WSO. He introduced the five works played prior to Takei's appearance with a polished and friendly demeanour, but to be honest, he was not who everyone had come to see.
And the repertoire was enjoyable -- a virtual hit parade of music from favourite science fiction films and TV shows.
The evening opened with a rousing rendition of the theme from Star Wars, trumpets wailing out the famous tune. The orchestra, boosted by several additional musicians, sounded nice and full. The brass was completely majestic throughout, after all, they get the starring roles in much of this music, but that didn't excuse the thinness of tone in the violins, weakening the string passages. Everyone has to hold their own.
Everly's own arrangement of a medley of TV series' theme songs was like a pop quiz for the audience, with strains from The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, My Favorite Martian and The Jetsons, many enriched by the spirited singing of youth choir Prairie Voices. Later in the evening, Everly did an actual quiz, turning up the house lights and awarding concert tickets to a young lady named Melody who named four of the shows represented.
The Adventures on Earth: ET suite began with lengthy trills from the flutes and piccolos, while the brass belted out the typically spine-tingling theme by John Williams. The WSO attacked this whole-heartedly. Everly has a relaxed style, relying on these veteran players, not over-conducting.
Takei finally emerged and proved that at 76, his warm voice is as strong and heart-warming as ever. He reminisced at length about his days on Star Trek, offering background about the cast, and tidbits about ratings and subsequent motion pictures. He was then joined by American soprano Kristen Plumley and the two launched into tiresome chatter about Winnipeg weather, the origin of Winnie the Pooh, then raved about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. We've heard it all before.
Everly had to finally give them the hook and started the orchestra on the Star Trek theme, with Takei performing the original narration. Plumley, microphone in hand, powerhoused her way through the well-known tune.
At press time, the WSO and Prairie Voices had begun the atmospheric Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The show repeats tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.