Sheena Easton and Sam Harris were the featured attractions of an inconsequential but entertaining concert Sunday at Helzberg Hall. An audience of about 1,400 attended the second of two performances of the first Pops Series concert of the Kansas City Symphony's 2013-14 season.
Billed as Rewind: Celebrating the Music of the `80s, the presentation showcased Easton and Harris singing pop songs of the decade with accompaniment by the orchestra. Unfortunately, a five-piece rock band dominated both the performance time and the sound field.
The concert began with the dashing young conductor Aram Demirjian overseeing an overture that served as an enticing preview of the concert. The rock band joined the orchestra after the sumptuous opening and proceeded to overwhelm the larger ensemble for the remainder of the evening.
The blare of the quintet reduced the orchestra to sonic window dressing. The orchestra's contributions could be detected only occasionally. These tantalizing but fleeting passages included the work of the brass section during a rendition of Toto's "Rosanna," the string section on a reading of U2's "With or Without You" and the woodwinds during the relative calm of the Whitney Houston ballad "Saving All My Love For You."
The band didn't merit the disappointingly insensitive arrangements. The quintet played with the slick anonymity of a proficient wedding ensemble, an impression heightened by its straightforward version of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.”
While their appearances would have been more engaging had the rock band not been present, both Easton and Harris impressed during their relatively brief time in the spotlight. Harris, an energetic vocalist who won the first season of the televised competition Star Search, demonstrated his lustrous voice and thoughtful phrasing on a soaring reading of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and a passionate rendition of Journey's "Open Arms." His R&B-inspired interpretation of "Over the Rainbow" bore almost no resemblance to the version Joyce DiDonato recorded with the Kansas City Symphony last year.
Harris played the role of Kenny Rogers on "We've Got Tonight,' a Bob Seger composition that placed Easton on top of the country charts in 1981. Partly because the orchestra was more or less audible, the stellar duet was the evening's highlight. Easton, a native of Scotland, also sang her charming hit "Morning Train (Nine to Five)" and her memorable James Bond theme "For Your Eyes Only." The concert concluded, perhaps inevitably, with a celebratory rendering of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."