By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
The vocal chemistry between Martin Nievera and special guest Rocky Brown as they sang love songs from "Miss Saigon" was a wonderful bonus last night as the Honolulu Symphony capped its 99th season in the Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show wasn't sold out but certainly should have been. The word may not have sunk in outside the expatriate Filipino community but Nievera is a world-class pop music entertainer.
Nievera opened with a powerful revival of "Corner Of The Sky" and kept things flowing with no dead moments until the encore. He sang several of his own hits, spoke easily of his feelings for Hawaii, and gently tweaked Gov. Cayetano.
He also commented good-naturedly on the creative concessions he'd made to comply with local union policies. Nievera may have done 2 hours with the Symphony in 1997, but he was allowed 69 minutes with his fans last night. He made every minute count.
Nievera's musical director, Louie Ocampo, meshed perfectly with Principal Pops Conductor Matt Catingub and the Symphony in a well-paced program that underscored the impact love songs have when played by an orchestra with good charts. The climax was a heartfelt and superbly delivered interpretation of Kenny Loggins' "Forever."
Nievera showed commendable restraint in making no direct comments about his personal life. He spoke of new perspectives, but let his choice of songs suggest his feelings.
Local pop act Forte gave a career-best performance despite sticking strictly to familiar material in a four-song, 17-minute set The quartet looked quite stylish in mix-and-match black gowns; Gissele "Gee" Tejada's long blond hair gave her a particularly exotic cosmopolitan appearance and set her off visually from the others.
The shortness of Forte's set let Catingub and the Symphony close the preliminaries with a glorious journey through John Williams' newly topical "Star Wars (Main Title)."
It was a trip well worth taking.