In almost every way imaginable — their sparkling personalities, their brilliant high harmonies, their equally powerful solos and their hardworking rhythm section — the four women of Radiance outshone the Omaha Symphony as they opened their three-concert Omaha stand Friday night.
Not only that, but the Motown tribute quartet and rhythm section also mostly drowned out their hosts. That at least was the case from the middle of the seventh row of the Holland Performing Arts Center's Kiewit Concert Hall, though concertgoers farther back may have had a different aural experience. Coupled with the symphony's “Stayin' Alive” program on May 5 (when the singers could hardly be heard from a similar listening point), Friday's experience suggests that it's no easy task — even in a superior acoustical setting like the Holland — to evenly balance an orchestra and its guest artists when the program features pop-rock standards.
That said, the songs and the singers are meant to be the stars of this weekend's shows, which continue at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Radiance, based in Las Vegas, calls upon a broad palette of performing experiences — Hollywood, on- and off-Broadway shows, the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Pointer Sisters — as they sing, dance and charm their way through nearly two dozen Motown and disco hits from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s.
Their program illustrates both their individual versatility and one of the keys to the Motown formula's success. The genre's songs reach their full potential when the singers are not only equally energetic and expressive but also equally capable of leading the group.
The four women split up the lead vocal line within several songs (including “Heat Wave,” “Be My Baby” and “Dancing in the Street”) and also took turns fronting the group as they spotlighted Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, whose hits accounted for nearly half the set list.
Vivian Scott, for example, evoked Ross in vocal and personal style in “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Ain't No Mountain High Enough.” But Wendy Edmead, who sang with the Pointer Sisters for a time in the 1990s, proved equally adept in leading “You Can't Hurry Love” and “Someday We'll Be Together” (though she yielded the lead to Crystal Robinson when the group sang “I'm So Excited,” the evening's lone Pointer standard).
Meanwhile, ex-Rockette MarQue Munday captured every bit of Franklin's allure in singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (the evening's only true vocal solo) and powered the group's tribute to Donna Summer, who died Thursday at age 63. “We'll continue to sing her music so she does live on,” Munday said in introducing a three-song medley that sandwiched her passionate lead on “She Works Hard for the Money” between “Last Dance” and “Hot Stuff.”
The symphony's moments to shine included the memorable “Love's Theme” (introduced by concertmaster Chris Hake's lovely violin solo) and saxophone solos on two numbers by Darren Pettit and Willie Karpf.