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All That Jazz And More: The New York Pops Celebrate Kander and Ebb

March 16th, 2017 Comments off

By Ryan Leeds

Tony Yazbeck, Steven Reineke, and Caissie Levy. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck, Steven Reineke, and Caissie Levy. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

There was more than enough razzle dazzle to blind Manhattan on Friday night as The New York Pops presented Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb. The always-stunning orchestra was joined by the equally fine talents of stage stars Tony Yazbeck and Caissie Levy. Yazbeck, who made his Broadway debut at the tender age of 11 in the 1989 revival of Gypsy, went on to star in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line and the 2008 revival of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone. He received a Tony nomination for his role as Gabey in 2014 revival of On the Town.

Levy’s resume is also nothing to scoff at (nor is her astounding voice). The Canadian native has been seen on Broadway in Les Misérables, Ghost, Hair, and Wicked.

Near the beginning of the two-hour evening, conductor Steven Reineke mentioned that he had been wanting to do the concert for some time, but it seemed particularly appropriate to do it in March as composer John Kander turns 90 years old on March 18. Mr. Kander was in attendance, seated beside Tony-winning director Susan Stroman. The two worked together in 2010’s The Scottsboro Boys and by the end of the night, it was announced that they would be joining forces once again on a new musical called The Beast in the Jungle.

Tony Yazbeck and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

To whittle down the body of work that Kander and his collaborator, the late Fred Ebb created is a near impossible task, but Reineke did an excellent job of selecting many notable songs.

The Pops kicked off the night with a suite from Chicago. It included “All That Jazz,” “Me and My Baby,” and  “Mr. Cellophane.”  Since the 1996 revival, the show has become ingrained in American culture and is still entertaining audiences at the Ambassador Theatre as the longest-running American musical on Broadway. It is one thing to hear this score on the original cast recording. It is yet another to hear it played by the full, lush New York Pops. The night started on a high point and continued to climb into the stratosphere.

Levy, in one of her many Liza Minnelli moments during the show, took to the stage with  “Sing Happy” from Flora, The Red Menace and struck a naughty spell with  “Mein Herr,”  from Cabaret. Levy, like Ms. Minnelli, proves herself a consummate performer, combining vocal finesse with the keen ability to act a song.

Yazbeck joined her on the complex, patter heavy “Money, Money” and the title song from Cabaret. Yazbeck charmed audiences with “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70. 

Chicago was revisited with four selections: “Hot Honey Rag,” the jazzy orchestral number that begs for Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon, who masterfully executed Bob Fosse’s trademark choreography in the original production. “Roxie,” sung by Levy followed. Yazbeck closed the portion with “Razzle, Dazzle” and “All I Care About.” It was then announced that he would once again be joining the Broadway cast as Billy Flynn.

Caissie Levy performs with The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Caissie Levy performs with The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Act I ended with a rousing rendition of “Ring Them Bells,” another showstopper from Levy that was first performed by Minnelli in the television special, Liza With a Z in 1972.

Kiss of the Spider Woman earned Kander and Ebb seven Tony Awards for their 1993 hit and the Pops paid tribute to it, opening the second act with “Gimme Love.”

Although it wasn’t a critical success, Funny Lady (the film sequel to Funny Girl ) did yield an Academy Award-nominated song and Levy revived the Streisand classic, “How Lucky Can You Get.”

Yazbeck delivered one of the more poignant moments of the night as he sat on a stool, accompanied only on piano and sang a painfully beautiful version of “Sometimes A Day Goes By,” from Woman of the Year. Then the debonair triple threat shifted gears with the rousing  “City Lights” from The Act.

Levy followed with “Colored Lights” from 1984’s The Rink. The show was one of Kander’s proudest musicals but failed to win the hearts of critics. Still, it included the lovely waltz, performed to absolute perfection by the night’s leading lady. Next came  “Everybody’s Girl,” from Steel Pier.

The Pops reclaimed the spotlight with “Minstrel March” from The Scottsboro Boys.

Yazbeck channeled his inner diva for the following two numbers: “You, You, You”, a song that was originally written for Chita Rivera in 2015’s The Visit, followed by “And the World Goes ‘Round,” which Minnelli made famous in the film New York, New York. 

Levy ended the night with a heartfelt rendition of “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret. Thunderous applause ensued and an encore of “New York, New York” followed.

John Kander and Fred Ebb had their share of hits and flops throughout their decades-long partnership, but they remain two of the most dynamic writing teams in musical theater history. Kudos to Reineke and The New York Pops for showcasing their work and choosing two amazing talents to carry out this vision.

The NY Pops’ next concert will be You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters on April 21 at Carnegie Hall.


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.

 

 

Tres Misérables: Pick Your Revolution

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler discovers not one, but three productions of Les Misérables about to storm the theatrical barricade.

 

lesmisLes Miz Returns to Broadway
The epic tale of Jean Valjean, a stolen loaf of bread, and a chorus of Broadway belters returns to the Imperial Theatre for another Les Misérables revival 28 years after it burst onto the London stage. Since its first production, more than 65 million people have seen the show, not counting those mesmerized by the in-your-face Academy Award-winning film.

Cameron Mackintosh’s newly staged production scraps the famous turntable and opts, instead, for a reimagined design and a cast of newbies as well as Les Miz vets from previous productions. “There is no doubt that Les Misérables will be storming the barricades for many years to come,” says Mackintosh. “I know that when I go “beyond the barricade”, the part I played in bringing Les Misérables to life as a musical will remain one of my proudest achievements.

Les Misérables opens on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on Sunday, March 23.

But if you think Broadway is the only place to get your Les Miz fix, you’ve got another barricade to storm. There are two notable U.S. productions happening simultaneous to the Broadway revival. Take the keep to find out what other theater companies are tackling the French Revolution.

Read more…

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Ghost” & “A Streetcar Named Desire”

April 24th, 2012 Comments off

The mad rush to make Tony eligibility becomes a full on avalanche this week. Let’s ride the wave of openings with multiple review round-ups today and tomorrow. First up, two shows that earn gasps from the audience — when their leading men take off their shirts. (I’m not kidding.)

Caissie Levy & Richard Fleeshman in "Ghost". Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes.

GHOST

The teary-eyed “classic” film about romance in the afterlife, sexy pottery throwing and sassy mediums, makes it to Broadway as a visually spectacular musical with songs by pop heavyweights Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart.

…thrill-free singing theme-park ride.” New York Times

“Overall, it’s an ambitious, carefully orchestrated work that raises the bar on technological innovation.” Associated Press

“…a lumbering megatuner with little to offer beyond a limitless array of dazzling effects.” Variety

“Much of Ghost is loud and tacky enough to wake the dead, yet there are undeniable signs of vitality from the machine side of this Broadway cyborg.” New York Magazine

Read more…

“Guvnor” Opens, Gyllenhaal Is In, “Ghost” Hits a Snag & More Theater News

April 20th, 2012 Comments off

James Corden in "One Man, Two Guvnors". Photo by Joan Marcus.

This week’s news round-up is brought to you by the number “2”, as in hot theatrical duos taking the stage:

  • Like some kamikaze European vacation (if it’s Thursday, it must be a musical), the unrelenting stream of show openings to make the Tony cutoff continued as the British farce One Man, Two Guvnors and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Clybourne Park both bowed to rave reviews. [I’m seeing Clybourne tonight so I’ll have a report next week.]
  • Another dynamic duo is taking the stage up at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. Bradley Cooper (always of Alias to me) and the divine Patricia Clarkson will star in a revival of The Elephant Man. A musical version of Far From Heaven will also be in the festival — so the actress who gets to play Clarkson’s role from that film will be feeling no extra pressure, right?
  • Caissie Levy & Richard Fleeshman in "Ghost". Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Jake Gyllenhaal is not a duo. But he certainly has a nice pair of something (eyes, yes, we’ll go with eyes) — so he can be a part of this round-up. He also belongs here because he’s making his New York stage debut  in Roundabout Theatre Company’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. He and his nice eyes will open September 20.

  • Molly, you in trouble, girl. At least, that’s how I felt for the talented and likable leading lady Caissie Levy last night when I caught a preview of Ghost The Musical (review thoughts will wait until it officially opens). During her big, character arch defining 11 o’clock number, the extraordinarily complicated video wall set seemed to be off its tracking and the curtain was brought down. Tech problems happen in previews and are usually no big deal; the show was up and running again in 20 minutes, right from the middle of Levy’s last verse.  The tough break here is that last night was a big reviewer night. Playbill reports that many of the majors including the New York Times were there last night (they somehow do not include my name). Kudos to Levy and company for jumping back in and giving it their all but one couldn’t help but detect a note of bittersweet disappointment in Levy’s curtain call — standing ovation notwithstanding. I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her it didn’t affect my feelings about her work at all. Oh, and the name of the song she was singing — “Nothing Stops Another Day”. Indeed.