Family Guy creator, writer, and voice actor Seth MacFarlane made his Wolf Trap debut last Friday (August 5) in Vienna, VA. He’s currently on his “Great American Songbook” tour, featuring the pop standards from the 1940s and 1950s. The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Steven Reineke, joined MacFarlane at the Wolf Trap’s Filene Center.
Many selections that evening came from the works of Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins, who collaborated with famous crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Ella Fitzgerald. Other songs were from arrangers Don Costa, Ira and George Gershwin, and lyricist Adolph Green. MacFarlane’s baritone voice is well-suited to these numbers with a flair and strength that is similar to Sinatra’s. His rendition of “Old Man River” was quite spectacular and easily one of my favorites of the night.
The National Symphony Orchestra, which resides at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is also a marvel to watch onstage. At the full count, it boasts a membership of close to 100 musicians! Conductor Reineke broke through the classic period once, conducting the Orchestra through John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare” as a heartfelt tribute to Team U.S.A. out in Rio.
MacFarlane’s admiration for older tunes of the 20th century is well known among Family Guy fans. The long running animated comedy has episodes that feature musical numbers sung by Peter, Brian, Stewie, and other beloved characters. The Wolf Trap event in some sense felt like a Family Guy episode at times, because there was stand-up comedy between the songs. On the final encore piece, “One for My Baby (And Once More for the Road),” MacFarlane even sang the lyrics with the voices of his Family Guy and American Dad characters.
The jokes were slightly tempered, perhaps to keep the focus on the music and a more family-friendly atmosphere. MacFarlane, in his usual fashion, was fearless in poking fun at Scott Baio and the Republican National Convention, Lindsay Lohan, awkward dates, and even entertainment critics.
“I was told there’s a critic here tonight,” he began, questioning the value of a review for a one-night performance. “Now I know [I should] see that show from yesterday.”
I agree with MacFarlane’s point that a review about Friday’s show, as he put it aptly, would make sense if you could time travel like Marty McFly. The set list, as I understand it, differs at each performance. Fortunately, his tour of the Great American Songbook continues in other cities across the U.S. He will sing with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra this coming weekend at the Embarcadero Marina Park South.
D.C. area residents and tourists will have another opportunity to hear the National Symphony Orchestra very soon. The NSO will play a free Labor Day concert at the U.S. Capitol on September 8.