Tony Award winner Debbie Gravitte is known for her big and brassy voice. So it’s no surprise that as the featured vocalist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra for two recent concerts centered around music from the James Bond series of films, Gravitte was more than capable of providing powerful vocals on several Bond hit songs, including some originally sung by Shirley Bassey and Adele. The title of the concert was Bond and Beyond as it featured not only Bond music but songs from other spy caper films as well. Under the assured direction of conductor Michael Krajewski, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra once again showed their fine musical skills and abilities to play music beyond the traditional classical realm. The concert featured Gravitte providing skilled vocals, along with a few funny statements that worked well with conductor Krajewski’s humorous patter in between the musical selections.
The concert got off to a great start with—what else?—”The James Bond Theme.” The combination of Monty Norman’s music and James Barry’s arrangement make that theme song immediately identifiable and the Phoenix Symphony excelled in their delivery of it, which included a skilled trombone driven beat throughout. Barry’s themes from both From Russia with Love, which featured lush violin accompaniment, and You Only Live Twice showed the wide range of music that has appeared in the Bond films. The themes often echo the music of the settings of the films, as demonstrated by the Asian influences in the score of the Japan-set You Only Live Twice.
Barry would go on to write the scores for twelve of the, so far, twenty-three Bond films as well as many of the famous well known theme songs. Gravitte provided rousing interpretations of Barry and Don Black’s “Diamonds Are Forever,” with her sparkling jewelry a nice prop addition to match Black’s lyrics, as well as David Arnold and Don Black’s mesmerizing “The World is Not Enough.” That song often gets forgotten when people think of the long list of famous theme songs from the Bond films, which is a shame as Arnold composed a moving piece of music. The music, which has a soothing rise and fall to it, resembles the movement of water or waves to a degree, and Gravitte’s vocals matched the music perfectly, quiet and small in parts than rising to a roar in others.
Arnold also wrote music for two of the most recent Bond films, and the “Suite” the Symphony played for his score selections from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, with an appropriately percussion heavy arrangement, was thrilling. Featuring music from the chase scenes of both films, it was a high point of the concert. The first act ended with an expertly played and sung version of the most famous Bond theme song, “Goldfinger.” The combination of Barry’s music, and lyrics from Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse were sublime with Gravitte doing her best to pay homage to the style in which Shirley Bassey famously belts the song. And she succeeded, even though for this one song it seemed like the sound levels were somewhat off with Gravitte’s vocals being overshadowed by the Symphony.
In the second act Gravitte got to present two songs not associated with the Bond films, the first being her funny take on the theme song “Secret Agent Man” from the 1960s tv show. In a blonde wig and white go go boots, she showed off her dance moves and rousing vocals on this upbeat song written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. Gravitte also sang a Stephen Sondheim song, “Sooner or Later” from the film Dick Tracy. The Orchestra also got a chance to play some non-Bond music, but with three selections that are widely known. They were Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova,” which was used in the Austin Powers films, and two Henry Mancini pieces, the “Inspector Clouseau Theme” as well as the main theme from the series of Pink Pantherfilms. Both were excellently played, with the Jones piece featuring some heavily skilled trombone playing and the jazz-influenced Mancini “Pink Panther Theme” getting a superb tenor sax solo.
The concert ended with two highlights. First, Gravitte delivered an expertly sung version of the Adele song “Skyfall” from the most recent Bond film of the same name. Gravitte added a nice amount of emotional heft to the moody Adele and Paul Epworth penned song. The Symphony ended with a “Best of Bond” suite, a nicely arranged and orchestrated piece that gave every section of the orchestra moments to shine and included other famous Bond theme songs like “Nobody Does it Better,” “Live and Let Die,” “For Your Eyes Only” as well as the Burt Bacharach/ Hal David song “The Look of Love” which was heard in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale. The Symphony came back for an encore, the fun and upbeat theme for “Mission Impossible.”
The only downside in the concert was Ames M. Stephenson’s “Concerto for Cell Phone” which didn’t quite work with the rest of the evening’s selections and the aforementioned sound issue with Gravitte’s microphone level.
Krajewski and Gravitte have performed similar Bond themed concerts with other symphony orchestras so it was no surprise at how well the two of them work together and how adept they are at performing the material. With Krajewski’s skilled conducting and Gravitte’s rich vocals, Bond and Beyond was another successful concert in the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra “Pops” series and showed once again the wide range of music the Symphony is capable of playing.
“Bond and Beyond” with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and featuring Debbie Gravitte played April 11th and 12th at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.