Concert Review: Randy Newman With the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall

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In the spirit of year-end list-making, the best concert performance of 2011 is a two-way tie between Jimmy Buffett and Glee Live! in Concert!

No, no, redact that. Such high accolades belong to Randy Newman and the Cleveland Orchestra.

On the way to the majestic Severance Hall this past Saturday evening, I was singing “Oh, it’s lonely in the front” to myself, excited to politely take my orchestra level seating only a few rows from the stage. The concert hall proved humbling, however, as there really didn’t seem to be a single bad seat in the Depression-era’s “temple to music.”

Newman, for the uninitiated, has at least three talents to speak of as a singer-songwriter capable of songs both sincere and satirical, an award-winning film composer, and an able pianist (later that night, he tipped his hat to the orchestra’s pianists that are “better than [him]”).

All three talents were on display at Severance Hall along with his hilarious banter between songs.

Throughout two separate hour-long sets, Newman elicited laughter from select members of the audience and orchestra alike. “Quite an orchestra you have here; they’ve chosen not to accompany me on this one,” Newman complimented before launching into “Short People,” his surprise 1977 hit and call-to-fame.

It was slotted early on, and set a contrast between his solo piano songs and those featuring the orchestra, conducted by James Feddeck.

“Dayton, Ohio — 1903” was added to the program upon request. Newman also performed “Burn On,” a 1972 ode to the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire. Laughing off a fumbling of the keys, he mocked the lyrics by adding in-song quips like “in case you didn’t hear me the first eight times” and “there’s a fact there” (Cleveland’s the City of Light).

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