Concert Review: THE EYES OF THE WORLD: FROM D-DAY TO VE DAY (Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall)

Post image for Concert Review: THE EYES OF THE WORLD: FROM D-DAY TO VE DAY (Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall)

by Leslie Rosenberg on May 30, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Boston


I just experienced the most magically delicious historical musical program, filled with bravery, courage, and strength — all slathered in pure patriotic love. Last night, May 29, a packed house at Boston Symphony Hall was there to honor, celebrate and mourn heroes, both those in beloved memory and those in the present (there was a chockful of heroes in the auditorium).

Historian John Monsky in The Eyes of the World

Curated by historian and writer John Monsky, who was the evening’s infectious primary narrator and storyteller, The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day is a tribute concert made up of videos, archival photos, personal letters, acting, singing and gorgeous musical arrangements by Ian Weinberger with ingeniously stirring orchestrations by Bill Elliot and Scott Wasserman, all masterfully performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra led by Keith Lockhart. Monsky calls it a “historical TED Talk with informational, supportive entertainment,” but it’s oh so much more powerful than that.

Katie Couric introduces the program

Journalist Katie Couric welcomed everyone with her personal take on that auspicious time, with a thanks to Monsky and his labor of love. She prepared us for this moving, inspiring production which vividly takes us back to the year when America united to defeat the Nazis. In this evening of goosebumps and tears was a surprising amount of laughter and entertainment.

Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops

With Peter Flynn‘s staging adding theatrical drama to the narrative thrust of the the final months of World War II, the insight comes from famous figures who represent the “eyes” of the world. The stunning photos of LIFE magazine’s Robert Capa show the invasion of Omaha Beach, which was assaulted on June 6, 1944 (D-Day of the invasion) by units of the U.S. 29th and 1st infantry divisions, many of whose soldiers were drowned during the approach from ships offshore or were killed by defending fire from German troops placed on heights surrounding the beach. Another perspective comes from young soldier “Jerry”  — a.k.a. J.D. Salinger — who landed on Utah Beach, one of the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion. Monsky, an avid flag collector since his teens, displayed photos of flags that were carried onto the Normandy beaches, and Robin Dennis’s slides provided photographic realism for both the horrors and the victories of war — every seat in the gorgeous hall had a perfect view.

John Monsky with photo of historic flag

Most of that generation of vets who changed the course of history have passed away or are now in their 90s or older (in fact, only around 119,550 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII are still alive today). It’s a story most Americans are familiar with (not just from history class but Spielberg’s recreation in Saving Private Ryan), and yet in this context the event becomes a searing history lesson which is not just entertaining but palpable. Fortunately, The Eyes of the World has been recorded for future showings on PBS, but can anything ever top the experience of watching the event together as community? (The show played before at Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center.)

Patrick Hemingway, great-grandson of Ernest Hemingway,
recognized at The Eyes of the World concert

We also heard photojournalist Lee Miller‘s reports from the frontlines of the war, and the words of war correspondent, unconventional soldier, and U.S. Navy auxiliary Ernest Hemingway (whose great-grandson Patrick was in the house), and Martha Gellhorn, the third wife of Hemingway, who witnessed and covered many of the pivotal moments of World War II and later conflicts during her 50-year career as a correspondent.

Shereen Ahmed, Daniel Yearwood, Kate Rockwell, and Nicholas Rodriguez

The text was brought to life by well-known theatrical performers Shereen Ahmed, Kate Rockwell, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Daniel Yearwood. The narration was combined with wonderful songs made famous by Woody Guthrie, Edith Piaf, Glenn Miller and more, all representative of that era — a stirring mix of music that captures the essence of the times, featuring works from Aaron Copland, Glenn Miller, Richard Rodgers, Frank Loesser and John Williams (who was was the 19th music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra, succeeding the legendary Arthur Fiedler). The quartet nailed those sweet harmonies of 40s standards, and also offered solos, including Yearwood’s “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, an original take of “La vie en rose” by Ahmed, who was perfection in the touring company of My Fair Lady, and Rockwell’s fresh and dazzling take on Loesser’s “The Boys in the Backroom,” a nod to Marlene Dietrich.

Shereen Ahmed

Siena Zoe Allen‘s wardrobe was era-appropriate, Marcos Santana’s movement creations ranged from dancing to fighting, and Alan Adelman‘s lighting design set different moods, be it stark and bare, or dreamy and romantic. Jenn Rae Moore was the Rosie the Riveter of stage managers — as with the work of women behind the scenes on the home front, it was Moore who kept this ship afloat.

I’m so glad, and feel quite honored, to have witnessed this wonderment, to be a pair of the many eyes of the world.

Kate Rockwell

photos by Winslow Townson, courtesy of the BSO

The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day
presented by Boston Pops
Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston
played May 29 and 30, 2024
airs on PBS stations this November, 2024

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Wolfson, Sr. June 1, 2024 at 8:33 pm

Privileged to have seen “Eyes of the World…” at the Kennedy Center, I concur wholeheartedly and sentimentally with Ms. Rosenberg. John Monsky, Creator, Narrator, Brain and Heart behind this remarkable production, has brought to the stage the very soul and spirit of America and so many of those sung and unsung heroes who made all those who experience the fabulous production realize the true meanings of patriotism, respect, and love for the United States.


Bob Wiecezak June 9, 2024 at 6:04 pm

I saw the show at Symphony Hall on the 29th. Drove from Long Island and we spent the night at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Dinner at Abe and Louie’s. We spent a lot of money just to see this show and all I can say is that it was worth every penny. It was one of the best tributes to our hero’s that I ever saw. Really looking forward to seeing it again on tv thought it won’t come close to the experience we had in Boston.


Mary E. Hines June 10, 2024 at 5:09 am

Standing ovation to the entire Boston Pops team for making this transcending event possible in Symphony Hall. This is the way history should be taught. I hope John Monsky continues this series to include the role that Native Americans played. Without the use of their language, the Germans would have been able to intercept our communications.


Leave a Comment