by Ryan Leeds
To paraphrase the famous song from My Fair Lady: “I Could Have Danced Most of the Night.” I’m referring to The New York Pops’ recent concert at Carnegie Hall that celebrated that paid tribute to the works of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
Under the exciting baton of conductor Steven Reineke, the orchestra, along with Essential Voices USA and some special guest stars, paid tribute to two of the greatest musical theater collaborators of the mid 20th century. Together, these hit makers penned Camelot, Gigi, Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, and My Fair Lady (the last of which is celebrating its 60th anniversary).
The Pops is known for drawing top-level talent from the Broadway and Operatic worlds. Friday’s concert brought Colin Donnell, a tenor best known for his onstage work in Violet, Anything Goes, and Jersey Boys. Television audiences may recognize him as Dr. Conner Rhodes in the NBC drama, Chicago Med. Opera star Nathan Gunn was also on hand, offering his rich baritone talents to the evening. Gunn has straddled opera and musical theater portraying leading men in both genres. Laura Osnes, one of Broadway’s new leading ladies who was discovered on the reality show, Grease: You’re The One That I Want, rounded out the trio.
The orchestra opened with a lush cornucopia of the duo’s works, followed by selections from Camelot and Gunn delivering the title song. Reineke shared a piece of trivia that the original Broadway cast recording remained on the pop music charts for 60 weeks upon its release in 1960. Gunn’s commanding presence and lush voice is perfectly suited to this material and the Pops made a fine choice in adding him to the roster.
After a thrilling start, the night hit musical molasses with “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”—a song so long that one might be tempted to run out, do an entire load of laundry, and return to catch one of the umpteen verses. Entire portions of the song were removed from Camelot’s movie adaptation. Gunn and Osnes handled it as best they could, but it is a song that is better suited contextually rather than in concert form
Donnell filled the shoes of Lancelot, closing the Camelot portion with “If Ever I Would Leave You.” With his boyish charm and handsome looks, Donnell could easily slip into the role of a prince. Vocally, however, his voice is better suited to rock/pop. He tended to reach for notes as though it were a difficult strain and wore the material like an ill-fitting suit.
Selections from Lerner and Loewe’s lesser successful shows came next. Although not as well-known as their other works, Paint Your Wagon is still dense with some great songs and this section shone a spotlight on Essential Voices USA, particularly in “They Call the Wind Maria” and “There’s a Coach Comin’ In/I’m On My Way.” The chorus has rarely sounded finer.
Osnes opened the next part of the program with “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight” and other selections from Gigi. Her voice floated effortlessly like a songbird, and her professional poise proving that she can handle material well beyond the bubble gum pop of Grease. (She has also appeared in the short-lived Bonnie and Clyde and the critically acclaimed production of Rodgers +Hammerstein’s Cinderella.) Aside from another “laundry time” song, “I Remember It Well,” the Pops closed out the first act on a high note.
Selections from Brigadoon opened the second act and Donnell’s “Come to Me, Bend to Me” was less strained than his earlier selections. The quiet song may well be one of the Lerner and Loewe’s most beautiful melodies. “Heather on The Hill,” “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean,” and the recognizable “Almost Like Being in Love” were also included.
The night ended with what is arguably the pair’s most cherished works, My Fair Lady. Much chatter in the theater community has been bandied about a revival. Should it happen, Osnes would be a shoe-in. Her voice sailed across the hall in “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “Show Me.” The gentlemen and chorus added contrasting buoyancy with “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “On The Street Where You Live,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
With the exception of a few plodding moments, it was a dance well worth attending, thanks largely in part to Reineke’s enthusiasm. The Pops will continue their season on November 11 with a Concert for Courage, honoring the brave men and women of the armed forces. December 16 and 17 they will “Make the Season Bright” with sisters Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway, brothers Will and Anthony Nunziata, and Essential Voices USA.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.