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Pops in Fine Form for "Sports Night"

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Apr 2, 2001 - 8:13:20 PM in archives

(first published in The Cincinnati Post April 2, 2001)

Wearing a Mudville jersey, baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench retold the story of "Casey at the Bat" with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Sunday night at Music Hall.

It was just one inning of "Sports Night," a fun, breezy Opening Day celebration that also included Abbott and Costello's classic routine "Who's on First?" (taped from the original "Kate Smith Radio Hour"), a football segment featuring NFL announcer Bob Trumpy and singer/ songwriter Mike Reid, who showed that giving up a six-figure salary as a Bengal 20 years ago to "play in clubs for $87.50 a week" was not such a bad idea.

Bench put grit and grace in Cincinnati composer Steven Reineke's felicitous, cinematic version of "Casey," which blends turn-of-the-century songs with realistic tone painting and a wheezy calliope in the distance. There was a long silence after "the force of Casey's blow," the crowd seeming to hold its breath until the mock-sorrowful epilogue.

As narrator of "Freddie the Football" (by Bernie Wayne and Richard Hayman), Trumpy gave appealing voice to the "odd ball" teased for his funny shape and victimized by place-kickers with pointed shoes until he becomes the official game ball at the Super Bowl.

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats baton twirlers and cheerleaders lent eye appeal to the Pops' "College Football Medley." Then it was Reid's show.

Opening with his 1983 Grammy-winner "Stranger in My House," he sang with Kunzel and the Pops, accompanied himself on the piano, lampooned country music, spun yarns and generally entertained royally.

He showed himself a fine, expressive singer in his "In This Life" (recorded by Bette Midler) and "I Can't Make You Love Me" (a mega-seller for Bonnie Raitt), also Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?" (his favorite song).

He leaped to the keys with a rag written for his great-grandma "who was afraid she would go to hell because she liked rag." He called on Nashville vocalist Mike Eldred for a soaring "Bright November Morning" from his opera "Different Fields" and "Who Are the Heroes?" from his new musical, "The Ballad of Little Jo."

Having worked the audience into a mellow state, Reid persuaded everyone to join him in a singalong of "The Glory of Love."

Repeat is 8 p.m. next Sunday at Music Hall.