Twenty-five years ago this month, a half-century dream was fulfilled when the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts premiered its first production, the appropriately chosen My Fair Lady. Like this classic musical, the history of the center is a story of refinement, the laborious and incremental steps toward developing an object of class, and headlined by a petite female dynamo. In Boise's case, that woman is the one and only Velma.
Mrs. Morrison was on hand to mark the occasion, dressed in her second-choice gown for the 1984 opening, and reminisced about the center's origins before introducing Leo Carson, the man in charge of laying the building's 480,000 bricks. Hosted by KTVB's Dee Sarton, the evening opened with a piano number composed and performed by Velma's son Ron Shannon. Several former Idaho governors were in attendance and received spotlighted acknowledgment before 25-year-old jazz chanteuse Sophie Milman took the stage.
Whether swinging through bossa nova standard "Agua de Beber" or re-imagining children's favorite "(It's Not Easy) Bein' Green," Milman's dusky voice and sassy stage presence made for an enjoyable performance. Wearing a ruffled eggplant-colored frock and backed by the stellar Boise Philharmonic, her sliding lyricism and dark timbre recalls the distinctive stylings of renowned songbird Chris Connor, but brought a contemporary flavor with covers by Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen. Although the philharmonic's orchestrations were occasionally overpowering, Milman and her five-piece combo had a comfortable onstage camaraderie with the group, despite never having played with a large ensemble before. After intermission, Milman and her boys returned sans orchestra, but retained the same energy and laid-back inventiveness that marked the first half. In closing, Milman sweetly thanked the audience for supporting independent jazz musicians and Velma for tirelessly working to build such a beautiful performance hall. It was a gracious, nostalgic evening that served as a great tribute one of Boise's finest attractions.