Betty Ragland has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Macon. She can be seen everywhere — supporting the arts, fundraising for charities, working on projects for Riverside United Methodist Church or promoting the Cherry Blossom Festival — so it was a surprise to find out that the Macon Pops’ concert at Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena on March 17 was her first experience at a Pops event.
It was, however, not wasted on Ragland, for she relished every minute of the orchestra’s and vocalists’ performances. Macon Pops has a new powerhouse devotee, thanks to an invitation from friend Carolyn Talbot to join a small group for the St. Patrick’s Day performance.
“Hit Songs from TV and Movies” was the theme for the concert in Hawkins Arena, the new home of the Macon Pops. Steve Moretti and Matt Catingub, co-founders of the orchestra, invited popular actress, singer and producer Gloria Reuben to be the featured vocalist for a nostalgic reprise of the theme music from a few movies and award-winning television series.
With the energy we have come to expect from Moretti and Catingub, the concert opened with an arrangement of the “Batman” theme from the television series, followed by Catingub, singing the familiar, nose-twitching theme from “Bewitched.”
It is easy to see why Reuben, a stunner in her blue gown, was included in “People” magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” in 1996. Her stage presence has been well honed after roles on television in “ER,” as the HIV/AIDS infected physician’s assistant, and as Elizabeth Keckley in “Lincoln,” the historical film produced by Steven Spielberg in 2012, among others too numerous to mention.
Reuben had never been to Macon prior to her Macon Pops performance, but charmed the audience and the orchestra members with her panache and was impressed with “this music city.”
With the animated film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” streaming on the theater-sized screen behind the orchestra, Reuben belted out “Why Don’t You Do Right,” one of the memorable songs from that movie. Joined by Catingub on saxophone, she sang the theme, “The Best That You Can Do,” from the hilarious movie “Arthur,” the original version that starred Dudley Moore as the drunken hedonist whose life is in shambles.
When the orchestra closed the first set with the theme from television’s “Hawaii Five-O,” many in the audience, of a certain age, laughed at the memories of watching glistening, toned bodies on Hawaii’s beaches, when surf boards became a must-have accessory — even if they were just carried on top of the car to attract bikini-clad girls!
The movie that made adolescents blush in 1967, “The Graduate,” starring Dustin Hoffman as the object of an older woman’s obsession, was moving across the screen when the duo of Reuben and Catingub sang the familiar “coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson,” from the Simon & Garfunkel hit, making everyone’s head turn just in time to see the famous leg scene, just one of many squirm-inducing situations in Mike Nichols’ successful film.
No one can argue with the dancing talent of a young John Travolta who in 1977 rose to fame with “Saturday Night Fever,” a paean to the disco age and to slick, duck tail hair. In the second set, Reuben’s rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” with its disco/Latin beat, filled the dance floor with oldies lovers who may not have mastered disco, but could still be moved by the film’s musical narrative of lovesick teenagers.
The final selection in the regular program, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’ ” from the glamorized, gritty and fictional television series about mob life, “The Sopranos,” showcased Moretti’s powerful performance on drums and the equally dynamic range of Reuben’s voice, reaching for the notes echoing the poignancy of the lyrics.
Once again, the Macon Pops has taken its music to new heights, this time reaching for a star and successfully luring her to Macon.
TRIP DOWN ANOTHER MEMORY LANE
The title of the song could be the mantra for the unbelievable changes to the Macon landscape in the last couple of decades — the remarkable growth witnessed on Mercer’s campus and in the preservation of tangible and intangible history — and the addition of the Macon Pops to the city’s musical lexicon.
I was standing in the gallery of Hawkins Arena after the concert, with Nedra Dugart and Charlie Willis. On what was his first visit to the facility, Willis looked around him and commented, almost reverently, on the life and accomplishments of coach J.B. Hawkins of Roberta, in whose honor his son and daughter-in-law, Chuck and Kathy Hawkins of Macon, endowed the arena.
“I worked and coached with him — one of the finest men I have ever known,” said Willis of his own nostalgic recall of a man larger than life in Georgia amateur sports.