The Saco River Theatre was swinging like it was 1939 on Tuesday night, when the Glenn Miller Orchestra came to play.

Beginning the evening with a brief version of their signature “Moonlight Serenade,” later played in full, the group quickly established the energy and spirit that would make for a lively show. The red-jacketed, 16-member band filled the venerable hall with many of the musical gems first made famous when Miller helmed the band over 70 years ago.

“Sun Valley Jam” reminded the crowd of how powerful riff-based big band music can be, as the reed and brass sections took turns in the driver’s seat. The familiar Miller sound of clarinet over saxophones made the first of many appearances as soloists stepped forward in quick succession. Bits of choreography, involving fluttering trumpet mutes and trombone slides pointed skyward, added to the visual appeal.

“String of Pearls” swung out hard, while “Tuxedo Junction” chugged along with hot and cool contrasting interludes. Trumpeter Steve Walters spiced up the classic “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” while band members shouted out the title. Carl Schultz added a period tenor sax solo to “Little Brown Jug.”

Nick Hilscher directed the band and introduced the songs, adding some details as to their origins. He sang a few tunes, including a dreamily mellow “Call of the Canyon.” An instrumental “Blue Afterglow” showcased the band in a laid-back mode.

Guest singer Jennifer Porter joined the band for several selections and sang as if she was right where she belonged. “Pennies From Heaven” was a highlight, with the singer employing her sweet upper range as a chorus of five clarinets filled in behind her. “What a Difference a Day Makes” had her digging deep into her soulful side. “I Won’t Dance” had the sometimes-actress getting playful as the band accentuated the spirit behind the lyrics.

Porter gave a shout out to Miller orchestra trombonist Jason Bennett, who hails from Warren, Maine, before a few band members joined her and Hilscher in a vocal chorus on a pitch-perfect “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo” and the popular wartime song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).”

A march-rhythm fueled “American Patrol” was offered in tribute to the veterans in attendance, and “In the Mood” reminded all, once again, that Miller brought the world many memorable tunes.

The orchestra hammered out a strong arrangement of the “Anvil Chorus” to bring the evening to a resounding conclusion.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.