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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.

 

 

15 Minutes with Tony Yazbeck

March 6th, 2017 Comments off
Tony Yazbeck (Photo: Emma Mead via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck (Photo: Emma Mead via The Broadway Blog.)

Mrs. Yazbeck might not have had a dream about her son being on the Orpheum circuit, but she knew that her son, Tony, was meant for a Broadway stage. For two years, she drove the future Tony nominee to and from their home in Bethlehem, PA. to the St. James Theatre to perform as a newsboy in the 1989 revival of Gypsy. The production marked his Broadway debut. Yazbeck would go on to star in the revival of A Chorus Line, On the Town, and the 2014 version of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone.

On Friday, March 10, Tony Yazbeck will join another Broadway baby, Caissie Levy, and The New York Pops for a night of Kander and Ebb.

Recently, the song and dance man chatted over the phone about his new role as a father and Pops Ambassador, as well as his career and what audiences can expect from a night at Carnegie filled with “Razzle Dazzle.”

Tony Yazbeck (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Tony Yazbeck (Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock, Inc.)

BB: I know that new parents love to talk about their children. Tell us about your newborn. 
TY: It’s your entire world now. It opens you up as a person and makes you more vulnerable. You have an instantaneous feeling of ‘I will die for you.’ It settles your mind and heart. It’s constant love. He’s a cool dude and I hope he loves his parents as much as we love him. When they say they grow up in a heartbeat, they aren’t kidding! Leonard Blaise Yazbeck was 4 weeks old on March 1.

BB: Are you getting any sleep? 
TY: Oh! That’s relative. My wife is the real trooper and I’m just trying to be there for her as best as I can.

BB: How did you land your first Broadway show, Gypsy, at the tender age of 11? 
TY: I was living in Bethlehem, PA, at the time, religiously taking dance classes. My mom saw an ad that they were casting newsboys. We went to the call at the stage of the St. James theatre and had to sing, dance, and play the clarinet. Before the day was done, the casting director, Stuart Howard, brought my parents and me downstairs and offered me the part right away. I started work two days later with three days of rehearsal and was put into the show on the fourth day.

BB: That version starred Tyne Daly. You were probably wondering who she was. 
TY: I learned from the older actors who everyone was and they told me that she’s an incredible actress. I thought, ‘well, I guess I have to watch her!’ Every night, I would watch her sing “Some People” from the wings. Watching her affect an audience like that was amazing.

BB: Did your career continue after Gypsy or did you take a break? 
TY: I was 13 years old when it closed and it was at a point when a boy goes through puberty. I auditioned for The Will Rogers Follies and they told me that I was too big. It was rather disparaging to think that I was no longer a kid in the business. So, I went back to school. I ended up graduating high school at a performing arts school in Florida, then went to school in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, moved to New York City, and continued my goal of reaching Broadway again.

BB: Is this your Carnegie Hall debut? 
TY: As a solo performer? For sure. I was in the concert version of South Pacific with Reba McIntyre and Brian Stokes Mitchell. To this day, Mitchell’s version of “This Nearly Was Mine” is one of my favorites.

BB: You’ll be singing songs from the legendary team of Kander and Ebb. What is it about their body of work that people find so appealing? 
TY: They write for the underdog. I’ve been looking at a lot of their lyrics that I haven’t seen since college. They are so clever! It’s amazing to see that the words they wrote years ago still pertain to today. It’s neat to see songwriters like this that are so timeless.

BB: Can you share some of the songs that you’ll be singing? 
TY: I’ll be doing “City Lights,” “And the World Goes Round.” Also, Caissie Levy and I are doing “New York, New York” and many others.

BB: You are an ambassador for NY Pops as well. What do you do in that capacity? 
TY: I just started that role. I’ve always been interested in youth education programs. It’s about constantly increasing awareness, which is so important. I’ll be going into schools and teaching the importance of music and the arts. It just heightens our awareness as people and our society.

BB: Is there anything in the pipeline for you? 
TY: I’m on a few episodes of Billions on Showtime right now and I’ll probably be doing a Broadway show later this year that will be announced soon!

Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb
Featuring The New York Pops with Tony Yazbeck and Caissie Levy
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium
881 Seventh Avenue
March 10, 8 p.m.

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.

 

 

Anne Carrere Triumphs in ‘Piaf! The Show’ at Carnegie Hall

January 11th, 2017 Comments off
Anne Carrere in 'Piaf! The Show.' (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Anne Carrere in ‘Piaf! The Show.’ (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tina Turner, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Barbara Cook, Harry Belafonte, and Anne Carrere all share one common denominator: They’ve all played Carnegie Hall.  Carrere’s name may not be as familiar as the others on that list but after an astonishing debut on Friday, January 6 at the notorious venue; her name can easily rank among these esteemed performers.

The French native had audiences in the palm of her hand after a solid two-hour event entitled Piaf! The Show, a theatrical production based on the life of the internationally famous French singer, Edith Piaf. The show has been touring the world, thrilling audiences and garnering immense praise from critics but Carrere’s stop in New York City was particularly noteworthy as it marked the 60th anniversary of Piaf’s January 13,1957 performance at the hall. Piaf made her debut there in 1956 and returned for her last and final performance one year later.

Anne Carrere in 'Piaf! The Show' (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Anne Carrere in ‘Piaf! The Show’ (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Carrere, along with pianist Phillipe Villa, accordion player Guy Giuliano, percussionist Laurent Sarrien, and double bassist Daniel Fabricant began the show (sung completely in French) depicting Piaf’s humble beginnings in Paris. Carrere entered the house and solicited audience members for spare change while singing “Comme un Moineau” (“Like a Sparrow”). Piaf, who was born Edith Giovanna Gassion, adopted the nickname “Piaf” (“little sparrow”) for her vocal talents. The remainder of the first act included several lesser-known songs from Piaf’s earlier career, while picturesque images of Paris were projected onto the empty upstage wall.

Act II proved to be the most substantial part of the evening, particularly for die-hard Piaf fans as Carrere delivered the most well known songs of the singer’s career. The light-hearted “Mon Menage a Moi” (“You’re My Carousel”) was first, followed by “Jezebel,” a 1951 flamenco-flavored hit based on the biblical Israeli queen. Many pop tunes from that era were covered and/or translated by a variety of artists and although the names of the French versions may not be instantly recognizable to non-French speakers, the melodies are likely familiar to fans of older standards.

“L’Homme a la Moto” (“Man on the Motorcycle”) was an unlikely 1956 hit for Piaf, which tells the story of a motorcyclist who treats his girlfriends with disrespect and meets a fateful death on the highway. The American songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the tune and originally titled it “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots”—it’s perhaps one of the most ridiculous songs ever penned. Still, it was one of Piaf’s greatest selling singles. Carrere performed it with the intended cheekiness and it served as one of the many fun moments throughout the night.

Another familiar piece, “Hymne a l’Amour” (“Hymn to Love”) was the most hauntingly beautiful song in the set list. Piaf wrote the lyrics and Marguerite Monnot set them to music.  It was written for Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1949. Dame Shirley Bassey brought the ode to American listeners. Carrere poured her heart into it, bringing tears to eyes of the Carnegie crowd.  Carrere herself was overcome with emotion as she acknowledged how overwhelmed she was to be appearing at the coveted concert venue. “A few years ago, I was just a little, unknown singer,” she said. “And tonight, I am standing here before you at Carnegie Hall.”

French director and producer discovered the 31-year-old marvel. Initially, she had auditioned for his show, Paris! Le Spectacle but he noticed her love for and vocal resemblance to Piaf and constructed the show with Carrere in mind. She is indeed an incredible discovery and carries herself with the poise of a seasoned star. One of her most impressive assets is her vocal stamina. Piaf’s songs are hugely emotive and have quite a range. While many singers would fade by the night’s end, Carrere’s voice only got stronger and was perfectly on pitch throughout.

Piaf! The Show ended with her biggest crowd-pleasers: “La Vie en Rose” (“Rose Tinted Life”) and “Non Je ne Regrette Rien” (“No, I Do Not Regret Anything”). The latter served as a mantra for Piaf’s often troubled life. Aside from the lack of supertitles, which may have enhanced this experience for non-French speakers, the creative team and star of this marvelous production should, like Piaf, have nothing to regret.

Eager audiences will have to hop a flight to northern France for her next appearance in Neuilly Saint Front on January 20.

For more information and to find regularly updated tour dates, visit:
http://piaf-theshow.com/

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre 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.

 

Don’t Miss: ‘Piaf! The Show’ at Carnegie Hall

December 27th, 2016 Comments off
Anne Carrere in 'Piaf! The Show.' (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Anne Carrere in ‘Piaf! The Show.’ (Photo: G. Marsalla via The Broadway Blog.)

Her voice was legendary. Now, the music comes to life once again for one night only at Carnegie Hall.

With over half a million tickets sold in more than 30 countries and worldwide critical acclaim, Piaf! The Showa musical celebration of the life and music of the legendary French chanteuse—returns to the U.S. as part of the extended world tour. The highlight of the American leg of a 400-performance global tour is the special presentation at Carnegie Hall on January 6, 2017, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Edith Piaf’s final performance at the famous venue.

Inspired by the award-winning movie La Vie en Rose, Piaf! The Show is a tribute to  Edith Piaf. Conceived and directed by the Nice-based theatrical maverick Gil Marsalla and starring Anne Carrere, a young French performer hailed as “Edith Piaf’s legitimate musical heiress,” Piaf! The Show premiered in 2015 as a tribute to “The Little Sparrow” on the centennial of her birthday. In two 45-minute acts, the show narrates the rags-to-riches story of the Parisian singer’s career through her unforgettable songs, complemented by a visual tapestry of previously unreleased photographs and images of famous locations from Piaf’s era.

Gil Marsalla, producer and director of Piaf! The Show, first met star Anne Carrere in 2014, when she auditioned for another of his productions, Paris! Le Spectacle. Captivated by her skills and natural charisma, Marsalla offered her the role of Edith Piaf in his new production.

“I have worked in show business – on and off stage – for 25 years and mounted shows around the world. But to this day, Anne Carrere is my greatest artistic discovery yet. Don’t you dare touch or polish her, she is a ‘diamond in the rough’, such is the nature of her pure and natural talent,” says Marsalla of his leading lady.

Tickets for this concert are $20-$125 and can be purchased through Carnegie Hall’s website or by calling CarnegieCharge at 212.247.7800.

Recap: Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall

March 28th, 2016 Comments off
Michael Feinstein (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Feinstein (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Feinstein gathered some of his favorite vocalists to join him last week at Zankel Hall to help celebrate Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary. Feinstein is a master of the Great American Songbook and has been wowing audiences for more than 30 years in live performances around the world. In addition, his impressive discography celebrates some of the most notable composers of the 20th century including Harold Arlen, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerry Herman, Jule Styne, and many more.

Christine Ebersole (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Christine Ebersole (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Opening with an inspired arrangement of “They All Laughed” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” (with a few final bars from “Rhapsody in Blue”), Feinstein quickly affirmed himself as both a virtuoso piano player as well as vocalist. In addition to his terrific musicality, Feinstein’s charm and in-depth knowledge shined bright as he reminisced about his first performance at Carnegie Hall in 1978.

In fact, Feinstein and friends continued to draw parallels between the cultural institution’s long history and the evening’s program. Special guest Liz Callaway referenced Judy Garland’s famous 1961 concert and paid homage to the evening with a rendition of “The Trolley Song.” Christine Ebersole was equally entertaining with “On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “Johnny One Note,” and an endearing duet of “Embraceable You” with Feinstein.

The evening concluded with Feinstein’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Producers) that occurred in 1939, where Irving Berlin sang “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Berlin would have been proud of Feinstein’s bravado.

Don’t miss Carnegie Hall’s 125th Anniversary Gala on May 5, featuring Martina Arroyo, Emanuel Ax, Michael Feinstein, Renée Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Lang Lang, Isabel Leonard, Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Itzhak Perlman, James Taylor, and more.

Standard Time with Michael Feinstein (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Standard Time with Michael Feinstein (Photo: Jennifer Taylor via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Feinstein and Friends at Carnegie Hall

March 21st, 2016 Comments off
Michael Feinstein (Photo provided by Carnegie Hall.)

Michael Feinstein (Photo provided by Carnegie Hall.)

Carnegie Hall continues its epic 125th anniversary celebrations with a not-to-miss concert on Wednesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. The program will feature Michael Feinstein along with special guests Christine Ebersole, Liz Callaway and Susan Powell. Expect evergreen favorites and a new classic with music by Feinstein and lyrics by the award-winning John Bucchino.

Michael Feinstein has built a dazzling career over the last three decades, bringing the music of the Great American Songbook to the world. From recordings that have earned him five Grammy nominations to his Emmy-nominated PBS-TV specials, his acclaimed NPR series, and concerts that span the globe, his work as an educator and archivist define him as one of the most important musical forces of our time.

Click here for our exclusive interview with Michael Feinstein that recently appeared in Passport Magazine. 

Christine Ebersole (Photo: Kit Kittle/Carnegie Hall.)

Christine Ebersole (Photo: Kit Kittle/Carnegie Hall.)

Christine Ebersole has captivated audiences throughout her performing career, from the Broadway stage to television series and specials, films, concert appearances, and recordings. She received virtually every Off-Broadway award and her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her “dual role of a lifetime” as Edith Beale and Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens. Other memorable New York stage performances include her Tony Award-winning performance as Dorothy Brock in the hit revival of 42nd Street,Steel MagnoliasOn the Twentieth CenturyCamelotOklahoma!Dinner at Eight (Tony and Outer Critics Circle nominations), The Best Man, and Blithe Spirit. This summer she stars in the world premiere of the new musical War Paint at the Goodman Theatre.

Liz_Callaway (Photo: Bill Westmoreland/Carnegie Hall.)

Liz_Callaway (Photo: Bill Westmoreland/Carnegie Hall.)

Tony nominee and Emmy winner Liz Callaway made her Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. She has gone on to star in Baby (Tony nomination), Miss SaigonThe Look of LoveThe Three Musketeers, and Cats, in which she appeared as Grizabella for five years. Off-Broadway appearances include The Spitfire Grill (Drama Desk nomination), Marry Me a Little, and Brownstone. Other New York appearances include the legendary Follies in Concert at Lincoln Center, A Stephen Sondheim EveningFiorello! (City Center Encores!), and Hair in concert.

New York audiences have seen Susan Powell as Johanna in Sweeney Todd at New York City Opera and as Alcmene in the Off-Broadway hit Olympus On My Mind. She has performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse, The Cape Playhouse, Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, Ogunquit Playhouse, Kansas City Starlight Theatre, and St. Louis Muny. Her leading roles include Kate in Kiss Me, Kate; Vicki in The Full Monty; Mother in Ragtime; Guinevere in Camelot; Sarah in Guys and Dolls; Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly!; Sally in Follies; and Desiree in A Little Night Music.

Standard Time with Michael Feinstein
Carnegie Hall
Zankel Hall
57th Street at Seventh Avenue
March 23, 7:30 p.m.

Review: The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall

March 15th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Betsy Wolfe , Steven Reineke and Darren Criss. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Betsy Wolfe , Steven Reineke and Darren Criss. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

For the Generation X Broadway crowd, Friday night’s New York Pops concert was a fond, nostalgic trip down memory lane. The evening’s theme, 42nd on 57th: Broadway Today, featured guest artists Betsy Wolfe and Darren Criss and selections from powerhouse shows of the 80s and 90s including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Little Shop of Horrors. More modern pieces like The Bridges of Madison County, Honeymoon In Vegas, and Once were also represented.

Ms. Wolfe’s name is yet to be held with the same esteem and notoriety as Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Sutton Foster, but just wait. A talent like this will not fly under the radar for long. She has appeared on Broadway in Bullets Over Broadway, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and in the recent Off Broadway revival of The Last Five Years. Ms. Wolfe’s consummate vocal range and powerful voice will cause you to sit up and take notice. The same could not be said for her duet partner for the evening, although if you ask Mr. Criss how great he is, he will likely saturate himself in superlatives—more on that later.

Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops, under Steven Reineke’s masterful direction, opened the evening with a rousing arrangement of selections from The Phantom of the Opera. Criss, who recently appeared in Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, followed with a muted version of “I Love Betsy” from Honeymoon in Vegas. Wolfe joined him in the patter heavy “Getting Married Today” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company and later, the two performed the beloved contemporary power ballad “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors as well as a reflective version of “Falling Slowly” from Once.

Criss conceded that he is not a traditional Broadway performer and that he has always leaned more towards the genre of pop. To his own surprise, he found himself working on a television show (Glee) that focused more on musical theater styles. Still, he is a talented musician who can accompany himself extremely well on piano and guitar. His acoustic version of “I Dreamed a Dream” was lovely as his light voice lends itself more to the singer-songwriter genre.

Yet Mr. Criss cruised past a comfortable state of confidence and drove full throttle into ego. During the introduction of a duet with Wolfe, he abruptly passed off his guitar to her, dismissively saying, “Here hold this,” while he adjusted the microphone stand. A uncomfortable Wolfe glanced at the audience with a look suggesting, “Can you believe the nerve of this guy?”

Original composers Jason Robert Brown and Robert Lopez were on hand to accompany their own selections. Brown joined Criss and Wolfe in a duet of “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles,” a piece from The Bridges of Madison County that fit Wolfe like a custom tailored suit, but left Criss in the dust. EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Robert Lopez sat at the piano to play his international hit, “Let It Go” from Frozen. When I saw it on the program, I was trepidatious. The song has grown tired through overexposure—at least until Wolfe gave it voice. She unthawed the piece with conviction and, for lack of more eloquence, melted the audience.

Criss and Reineke provided a jovial moment towards the end in the silly “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from The Book of Mormon and Wolfe had audiences leaping to their feet with the show’s finale, “Maybe this Time” from the Kander and Ebb classic, Cabaret.

The issue of poor sound design continues to plague the concert series. Usually the orchestra overpowers the vocalists. On Friday evening, the opposite held true. Overall though, the program was pure fun.

The New York Pops’ next concert is The Music of John Williams: From Spielberg to Star Wars on April 8 at 8 p.m.

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

Don’t Miss: Alan Cumming at Carnegie Hall

January 26th, 2016 Comments off
Alan Cumming (Photo: Steve Vaccariello via The Broadway Blog.)

Alan Cumming (Photo: Steve Vaccariello via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s going to be a wild night at Carnegie Hall come February 8, when Alan Cumming headlines in his Carnegie Hall debut in Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs with Friends. Those friends happen to include Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Ricki Lake, and a special performance by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

Backed by Cumming’s longtime musical director Lance Horne on piano, Eleanor Norton on cello, Chris Jago on drums and Michael Croiter on guitar and percussion, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs premiered in Spring 2015 for a limited run at the iconic supper club Café Carlyle, garnering such critical praise that producer Daniel Nardicio approached Cumming about bringing the show to Carnegie for a one-night-only performance.  

This evening also marks the release of Cumming’s newest CD Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, from Yellow Sound Label, recorded live at the Café Carlyle. It includes his singular interpretations of pop hits (Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight”), musical theater songs (“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, “You, You, You” from Kander & Ebb’s The Visit, “If Love Were All” by Noël Coward) and numbers that Cumming has collected from around the world (“Mother Glasgow” from Scotland, “La Complainte de la Butte” from France, “How Do Humans Live” from Germany). The new album – produced by Michael Croiter, with Daniel Nardicio serving as associate producer – is currently available for pre-order at www.AlanCummingSingsSappySongs.com.

An actor and activist, Cumming currently plays political maverick Eli Gold on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” for which he received Golden Globe, Emmy, SAG and Satellite Award nominations and earlier this year finished his Tony Award-winning role of the Emcee in the Broadway musical CabaretHis diverse career has found him performing at venues around the globe including the Sydney Opera House; making back to back films with Stanley Kubrick and The Spice Girls; directing and starring in a musical condom commercial; creating voices of a Smurf, a goat and Hitler; entering upside down and suspended by his ankles in a Greek tragedy (in the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Bacchae); and recording an award-winning album of songs (plus a dance remix). A tireless champion for LGBT civil rights and HIV/AIDS, Cumming serves on the Board of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and works closely with amfAR, The Trevor Project and the Ali Forney Center to name but a few. 

In addition to the New York album launch at Carnegie Hall, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs will also be performed in Tampa, FL (January 24), Toronto, CA (February 6), Bethesda, MD (February 14), Napes, FL (February 28), Detroit, MI (March 19), Minneapolis, MN (March 26) and Port Washington, NY (May 14). Details are at www.AlanCumming.com.

Review: The New York Pops Holiday Concert at Carnegie Hall

December 23rd, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

I’m prefacing this review by stating that my barometer of holiday cheer is quite high this year. I’ve strung Christmas lights in my work cubicle and my playlist has been tuned to seasonal favorites. I’ve even managed to maintain a spirit of goodwill by resisting the urge to trample tourists on the crowded, decked out streets. So it is with some trepidation to report that the New York Pops Holiday Concert on Friday Dec. 18 and Saturday Dec 19 was, overall, as fizzy as flat champagne.

Broadway stars Stephanie J. Block and Brian d’Arcy James headlined the two-hour affair, along with Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA (who sang with usual precision). Block opened the evening with James Kessler’s arrangement of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” a selection that was repeated from last year’s concert (albeit a different arrangement). She was later joined by James in a pleasant arrangement of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” James, who currently headlines the hit musical, Something Rotten!, took a break from his usual stint in the Broadway show to join the Pops. The usually charming actor delivered two holiday favorites, “The Christmas Song” and “Jingle Bells” with sufficiency, but without much elan.

The New York Pops with Brian d'Arcy James and Stephanie J. Block (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops with Brian d’Arcy James and Stephanie J. Block (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Essential Voices USA reversed the ennui of the evening with a lovely rendition of the beloved Vince Guaraldi classic, “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Then, turning to a more reverent theme, they performed the stunningly beautiful carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” by well-known arranger David Chase. The latter can be heard on the choir’s gorgeous album, “Holiday Harmonies: Songs of Christmas.”

The Pops continued to add verve to the line-up with a fun mash-up of “Little Drummer Boy” and Ravel’s “Balero” in the orchestra only “Little Bolero Boy.” Act I ended with a toe-tapping “Holiday Hits Medley” with Block, James, and Essential Voices USA.

Aside from a poignant, autobiographical selection entitled “Michigan Christmas” written and performed by Saginaw native James, there was little fanfare in Act II. Re-hashed songs including “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (haven’t we heard enough versions of this song, which basically suggests date rape?). Even “O Holy Night” failed to induce any goosebumps by Block. Last year, Kelli O’Hara’s performance of it had audiences leaping to their feet. Perhaps Block was under the weather as her vocal capabilities are typically solid and sensational. With the Pops, however, she didn’t seem to deliver the goods.

It didn’t help that the sound was usually imbalanced either. Most of the time, the orchestra overpowered the vocalists, making it nearly impossible to comprehend lyrics. At first, I thought it was just my ears. But at intermission, my guest mentioned it as did the two strangers seated in front of us. Perhaps at a school Christmas pageant this would be acceptable, but not at the one of the world’s most respected concert halls. The Pops rightfully prides itself on engaging programming, and usually, they succeed. This concert, however, was mostly a repeat of last year’s selections and while there is no need to re-invent the wheel, there’s also no reason to replicate what has already been done.

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.

Don’t Miss: Duncan Sheik & More at Carnegie Hall

November 14th, 2015 Comments off
Duncan Sheik (photo: Lexi Lambros via The Broadway Blog.)

Duncan Sheik (photo: Lexi Lambros via The Broadway Blog.)

The WFUV Live at Zankel concert series, presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with WFUV 90.7 FM, kicks off its 11th annual series on Saturday, November 21 at 10:00 p.m. with a performance by Tony Award-winning singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik. Sheik, whose musical Spring Awakening is currently running on Broadway, performs songs from his new album Legerdemain and favorites from his theater work.

Duncan Sheik: Saturday, November 21 at 10:00 p.m.
After breaking through in the late ‘90s with his Top 20 single “Barely Breathing,” Duncan Sheik spent much of the subsequent decade focusing on albums that broke with pop music conventions as well as Spring Awakening, the Broadway sensation that won him two Tony Awards and a Grammy Award in 2007, and which returned to the Broadway stage in September.

Sheik’s extensive discography includes Humming (1998), Phantom Moon (2001), Daylight (2002), White Limousine (2006), Brighter / Later (2006), Covers 80s (2011), Covers 80s Remixed (2012), and Legerdemain (2015). His recent theater projects include Because of Winn Dixie, which premiered at the Delaware Theatre Company in spring 2015; American Psycho, which premiered at the Almeida Theatre in the UK in winter 2013 and is set to open on Broadway in March 2016; Arms on Fire, which premiered at the Chester Theater Company in summer 2013; The Nightingale, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in summer 2014; and Alice By Heart, which premiered at London’s National Theatre in summer 2012. Sheik is also the owner and producer of Sneaky Studios, a full service recording studio built in 2011 on 2.5 acres in the Hudson Valley community of Garrison, New York.

The annual series, which celebrates the art of singer/songwriters and highlights the eclectic nature of their music, includes two more concerts this season by Hurray for the Riff Raff on January 29, and The Wood Brothers on March 5. WFUV’s Music Director Rita Houston curates the series with Carnegie Hall and serves as host for the concerts.

About WFUV Live at Zankel
Prior to all WFUV Live at Zankel performances, beginning at 9:00 p.m., concert-goers are invited to enjoy a laid-back pre-concert experience with drinks in the Zankel Hall lounge where they can meet others who share their passion for music. For more information please visit: carnegiehall.org/latenights<http://www.carnegiehall.org/latenights>.

The WFUV Live at Zankel series, which began in October 2005 as City Folk® Live at Zankel, is based on WFUV’s pioneering music format which blends adult rock, alternative rock, singer-songwriters, and roots music. Previous artists who have performed as part of the series include Rosanne Cash, Citizen Cope, Cowboy Junkies, Alejandro Escovedo, Richie Havens, Indigo Girls, Nick Lowe, Shelby Lynne, Aimee Mann, Nellie McKay, Joan Osborne, Jane Siberry, and Suzanne Vega, among others.