Performing Arts

Fort Worth Symphony’s ‘Rock On!’ was born to be mild

Concerts in the Garden continues through Monday at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.
Concerts in the Garden continues through Monday at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.

The Fort Worth Symphony’s Concerts in the Garden presentation at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on Sunday night, “Rock On!,” was an appealing show — for anyone who does not particularly care for rock music.

Few performances in this series have failed to live up to their theme as thoroughly and shamelessly as did this one, which concentrated on music that was born to be mild.

The problems with this concert began with the personnel. On a night purporting to be a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll, the symphony, under the baton of guest conductor Ron Spigelman, was joined by three outstanding singers — Mandy Gonzalez, LaKisha Jones and Ron Bohmer — with impressive Broadway credentials.

That’s right. A rock tribute show featuring a symphonic orchestra and a trio of musical theater types, without an electric guitar in sight. What is wrong with this picture?

The concert began on a promising enough note with a nifty little overture cobbled together from some of the tunes about to be offered. Then Bohmer, whose resume includes Les Miz and Fiddler on the Roof — but no mention of Coachella or Lollapalooza — came on for Pinball Wizard, one of the few true rock numbers performed Sunday. But, come to think of it, that song from the Who’s 1969 rock opera is also a show tune now. And Bohmer’s take recalled that version much more than the ones by the Who and, later, Elton John.

Gonzalez, who has sung in the Broadway productions of Wicked and Aida, was up next with Carole King’s I Feel the Earth Move (another former chart-topper that is now part of a Broadway show). It much more clearly defined the tone and timbre of the concert as a whole: safe, bland, midtempo pop songs delivered with an orchestrated Broadway sheen.

Here are some of the choices for Sunday’s program: Respect, the signature song of soul legend Aretha Franklin; No More Tears (Enough is Enough), a tune made famous by noted rocker (not!) Barbra Streisand and disco queen Donna Summer; Conga, the breakout hit for Latin music star Gloria Estefan; The Garden of Gethsemane from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar; and Mama Mia!, a hit from Swedish pop meisters Abba that, not surprisingly, is also the title of the jukebox musical featuring their works. Oh, yeah. Where did I leave my rock ‘n’ roll shoes?

There were a few numbers that had a little bite and life. Jones, who was strong on Respect, was also great on Tina Turner’s version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary — one of the few untainted rock numbers on the bill. And all three of the vocalists shone on Queen’s inherently theatrical, glam rock classic, Bohemian Rhapsody. But most of the other offerings were tepid and sanitized beyond redemption.

And the problems with the concert did not end with the music. The sound, which had been so crisp and robust in previous concerts this summer, was often thin and hollow Sunday, and poorly mixed with the vocals. There were also several odd moments, like on Respect, when a trio of backup singers were completely inaudible while trying to support Jones. But that approach to the sound was a good match for the erratic lighting, which often made the singers sing in the dark.

It was also an exceptionally warm and sticky night (although you can’t blame the orchestra for that) where the most common movement in the crowd was the desperate waving of fans supplied by one of the concerts’ sponsors. I have seen more dancing on nights when Sousa marches dominated the program than at this one, where the heat and lack of a true rock beat kept the 1,500 patrons in their seats or on their blankets.

This concert would have been so much better if some honesty in advertising had been employed and the show had been labeled “Rock Walks on Broadway,” or something like that. But calling it “Rock On!” and then filling it with easy-listening tracks was a bait and switch. If this show didn’t make you race home to turn a Ramones album up to 11, nothing ever will.

Concerts in the Garden

  • Through Monday
  • Fort Worth Botanic Garden
  • 8:15 p.m. (Gates open at 6:30 p.m.)
  • $22-$60 (Children under 10 admitted free to lawn area)
  • 817-665-6000;
  • Next Concert: Friday, Windborne’s The Music of the Eagles