KSO in tune with simple delights of ‘Mary Poppins’

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Even with Willie Nelson in town on Saturday night, a large audience showed up to see Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in Disney’s 1964 movie “Mary Poppins” at the Civic Auditorium, with the Knoxville Symphony performing the movie score live underneath the projected movie, complete with the soundtrack minus the music.


With several of these movie-with-live-soundtrack performances under his belt, KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum was brilliant at keeping everything together: reading the score and watching the movie monitor at the same time, with its flashing tempo light. The performance of the entire orchestra was nothing short of dazzling, even with performing in the dark and not being the center of visual attention.

Except for musicals, the soundtrack in movies works pretty much as emotional-experience enhancers that we “feel” through our ears. We sense it much more than we are aware of hearing it. The special part of the experience of these live performances with the KSO is that we see the performers making the sounds, making the emotions we “hear” a doubly delightful experience.

“Mary Poppins” wasn’t the first feature film to combine animation with live-action characters. That status belongs to “The Lost World,” made in 1925. “The New Gulliver,” made in the Soviet Union in 1935, was entirely animated except for the character of Gulliver himself. There were even earlier live/animation production experiments before that.

But “Mary Poppins” was certainly the first worldwide success: more than $100 million to date. No doubt, for much of Saturday night’s audience, watching Van Dyke’s character, Bert, dancing with penguins, with the crotch of his white penguin pants down around his knees, brought flashes of the hip-hop generation that is functionally one-handed because the other hand is dedicated to keep their pants off the floor. The difference between the white kids wearing this fashion statement and the black kids who began the trend is that the black kids are often showing off better underwear.

As I watched the teenage girl in the row in front of me look at her phone for most of the movie, more interested in what her friends were up to than whatever magic nanny Mary Poppins was creating for her charges, Jane and Michael Banks, I wondered why fantasy movies today – with cars that become monsters and war machines zipping through space – are almost always violent. Is violence a new kind of delight. Has it completely replaced simple delight?

Clearly KSO Pops audiences like the combination of live music and movies they love. They have produced sellout performances this year. Another one is likely to happen in the 2019-2020 Pops series as well.

On Jan. 11, 2020, the Pops season will feature Gene Kelly’s 1952 “Singin’ in the Rain,” rated by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie musical of all time. Certainly “Mary Poppins’” big dance number, “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” with the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops of London (actually, a movie set in California), learned from Kelly’s precedent-setting performance in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Still to come in this season’s series is the multifaceted Leslie Odom Jr. joining the KSO on May 11, 2019. Odom became a megastar performing in the Broadway smash “Hamilton.”

Next season’s Pops series begins with “Super Diamond: The Ultimate Neil Diamond Tribute” at the Tennessee Theatre on Oct. 11, 2019.

On Feb. 8, 2020, The Texas Tenors, the trio that found huge success after appearing on “America’s Got Talent!” in 2009, will appear with the KSO to perform their brand of classical crossover.

The same creative group, led by Brent Havens, that has brought the rock music of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Journey and Pink Floyd to KSO Pops concerts will be back on March 7, 2020, with music of the Rolling Stones.

Magician Michael Grandinetti will join the KSO for “Symphony of Illusions” on April 4, 2020, with his levitation act and other deceptions.

The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra partners with the KSO on May 9, 2020, for a “Swingin’ Symphony” concert.

Tickets for the Odom/Pops concert as well as season tickets and package options for the 2019-2020 Pops season and all other KSO concerts can be found here and by calling the box office at 865-291-3310.

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