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June 22, 2014

Night of Proms show a long, lively and extravagant stroll down pop music memory lane

A blend of classic pop and classical music at the Sprint Center showcases Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, the Pointer Sisters and other stars from the ’70s and ’80s backed by an orchestra, chorus and rock band.

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Timothy Finn blogs about the Kansas City music scene

The “classic meets pop” concept goes back more than a century, at least to the promenade concerts started in Britain and the United States in the late 1800s.

On Saturday night, an extravagant promenade concert came to the Sprint Center. Called Night of the Proms (short for promenade), it was a mix of classical music, opera and pop music starring Michael McDonald, Nile Rodgers and Chic, Kenny Loggins, the Pointer Sisters and British pop star/musician John Miles.

They were backed by the Belgian orchestra Il Novecento, conducted by Robert Groslot, the 24-member Fine Fleur choir and an eight-piece rock band. Canadian opera singer Natalie Choquette also performed.

Night of Proms has been a big hit in Europe for decades. It made its U.S. debut this month. Kansas City was one of four Midwestern cities to host the show; Dallas, Little Rock and Omaha were the others.

Before one of the smallest crowds I’ve seen at the Sprint Center (fewer than 4,000), the musicians delivered a show that was 15 minutes short of four hours, including a 25-minute intermission. There were one or two disposable numbers, but most of it was entertaining and well-executed.

After performances by the orchestra, including Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5,” and an aria from “Carmen” by Choquette, the Pointer Sisters emerged for their set. It included “Jump (For My Love),” “Slow Hand,” their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” and “I’m So Excited,” which lived up to its name, igniting the first uproar of dancing and singing in the arena.

After that came a cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” by Fine Fleur and the orchestra’s rendition of Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz,” which included some waltzing (or attempts at it) by several couples who’d been recruited to step forward and dance.

Then Miles performed “Music,” a hit for him in Britain in the mid-1970s. After a comedic bit by Choquette and the orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” Loggins took the stage.

He opened with “Conviction of the Heart,” one of his ’90s hits, then “Celebrate Me Home,” the title track from his debut solo album of 1977. During that one, he mingled with the audience on the floor, singing a few measures while standing on a chair.

A white grand piano and McDonald then emerged, arousing another loud ovation, and he and Loggins reprised their hit duet, “This Is It.” Loggins would bring his set home with two of his biggest hits: “Danger Zone,” from the “Top Gun” soundtrack, then “Footloose,” from the film of the same name. During that song, the orchestra and chorus both indulged in some very loose footwork of their own.

After the 25-minute intermission, the orchestra performed a Gioachino Rossini composition (a program for this show would have been helpful), then Rodgers and Chic took the stage and delivered the liveliest set of the night. It included “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love” and “Good Times,” which featured a dance party by a mob of crowd members who’d been invited on stage. The set also included a cover of Daft Punk’s Grammy-winning single “Get Lucky,” which was co-written by Rodgers (who later thanked St. Louis – oops – for its great reception).

Between Chic’s rousing set and McDonald’s closing set, Choquette performed a low-brow skit that involved her drinking and dining on pasta while singing flawlessly, and Miles and the orchestra, chorus and band performed a version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that didn’t stray far from the original.

McDonald followed with a set of some of his best-known numbers. His voice is huskier than it used to be, but it remains inimitable and deeply soulful. He opened with “Sweet Freedom,” then Ruth Pointer filled in for Patti LaBelle on “On My Own.” After that, solid renditions of “Yah Mo B There” and, with Loggins, “I Keep Forgettin’.” He closed with one of his best-known songs, “What a Fool Believes.”

For the encore, the entire cast took the stage and unleashed a raucous rock/orchestral/chorale version of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” I don’t know about familial, but like much of this extravaganza, it did feel familiar, though with a fresh, invigorating, over-the-top twist.

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