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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.

 

 

Watch: ‘First You Dream—The Music of Kander & Ebb’

November 16th, 2015 Comments off
Matthew Scott, Heidi Blickenstaff, Norm Lewis, Julia Murney, James Clow and Kate Baldwin in 'First Your Dream - The Music of Kander and Ebb.'

Matthew Scott, Heidi Blickenstaff, Norm Lewis, Julia Murney, James Clow and Kate Baldwin in ‘First Your Dream – The Music of Kander and Ebb.’ (photo: Michael Brosilow via The Broadway Blog)

The legendary Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award-winning songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb provides the soundtrack for PBS’ First You Dream—The Music of Kander & Ebb, which premieres Friday, November 20, 2015, at 9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). The program, based on the musical revue conceived by stage director Eric Schaeffer and music director David Loud, features some of the greatest and best-known Broadway songs ever written. The one-hour special is part of the fifth annual PBS Arts Fall Festival.

Kander and Ebb composed some of the most beloved Broadway scores of all time — including Cabaret, Chicago, Woman of the Year, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Act — and more recently the musicals Curtains and The Scottsboro Boys. Their repertoire includes such timeless songs for stage and screen as “New York, New York” (from the Martin Scorsese film of the same name), “All That Jazz” (from Chicago) and “Money Makes the World Go Around” (from Cabaret). The team’s work has a long history of making superstars of their lead actors, from introducing Liza Minnelli to Broadway in Flora the Red Menace, to burnishing Chita Rivera’s career in the original production of Chicago, to introducing American audiences to Alan Cumming in the smash 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret.

First You Dream features a stellar cast of Broadway veterans singing the duo’s songs, including Norm Lewis (Phantom of the Opera, Porgy & Bess, Les Miserables), Heidi Blickenstaff (The Little Mermaid, The Addams Family, Something Rotten), Kate Baldwin (Finian’s Rainbow, Big Fish, Thoroughly Modern Millie), Julia Murney (Crimes of the Heart, First Lady Suite, Evita), Matthew Scott (Sondheim on Sondheim, Jersey Boys, A Catered Affair) and James Clow (Peter Pan, Wonderful Town, Company, She Loves Me).

Julia Murney (l) and Heidi Blickenstaff (r) in 'First You Dream - The Music of Kander and Ebb.'

Julia Murney (l) and Heidi Blickenstaff (r) in ‘First You Dream – The Music of Kander and Ebb.’ (photo: Michael Brosilow via The Broadway Blog)

“Songs from the Kander and Ebb catalog have been hugely significant contributions to our musical culture,” said Donald Thoms, PBS Vice President of Programming and festival curator. “First You Dream brings together a team of Broadway’s most talented artists paying homage to two of its legendary writers. This is a truly special performance program.”

“The repertoire of these two amazing songwriters showcases the American musical in its finest form,” said First You Dream producer and HMS Media co-founder Scott Silberstein. “Kander and Ebb never called attention to themselves; they instead focused on writing great songs to tell great stories, brought to life in this show by a powerhouse cast that embodies the enduring appeal of their music.”

Broadway recently hosted four Kander and Ebb creations, including The Visit (with Chita Rivera), Cabaret (with Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams and later, Emma Stone), the long-running Chicago and a two-night, in-concert performance of their 1968 hit, Zorba. Fred Ebb died in 2004, but John Kander continues to create new musicals and remains a dynamic creative force.

First You Dream was shot live at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Illinois and produced by the 17-time Emmy Award-winning HMS Media. HMS co-founder Matt Hoffman directs, with lighting and production design by Todd L. Clark. Musical staging is by Karma Camp. Bill Brohn created orchestrations based on David Loud arrangements, and Paul Masse is associate music director and pianist. Previous HMS Media credits on PBS include A Christmas Carol: The Concert, Celtic Woman: Emerald, Under the Streetlamp and Second to None with Tina Fey.

Funding for the 2015 PBS Arts Fall Festival is made possible by generous support from the Anne Ray Charitable Trust. Additional funding for First You Dream was provided by The Bernard Family Foundation, The Meyer Family Foundation and The Family Guidance Center.

First You Dream—The Music of Kander & Ebb is part of the fifth PBS Arts Fall Festival, an eight-week series hosted this fall by Grammy-winning international music superstar Gloria Estefan. Presented on Friday nights through November 27, 2015, the Fall Festival features legendary artists, dazzling musical performances, captivating entertainment and complementary digital content. The Festival closes Nov. 27 with Great Performances “Andrea Bocelli: Cinema” featuring the renowned tenor in a concert that celebrates music of the silver screen.

The arts are a cornerstone of PBS’ Friday night primetime lineup in the fall, reaching more than 15 million viewers last season and underscoring PBS’ ongoing commitment to giving audiences the best of the arts on-air and online. Most programs will be available online at http://video.pbs.org/ following their broadcast premiere.

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Review: The Visit

April 23rd, 2015 Comments off
Chita Rivera and the cast of "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Chita Rivera and the cast of “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Death becomes her. Or not.

Chita Rivera returns to the stage in Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, a dismally depressing one-act musical adapted from the Swiss play by Friedrich Dürrenmattthat that tells the story of Claire Zachanassian, a wealthy self-proclaimed whore who returns to her destitute hometown to seek revenge on the man who broke her heart.

Chita Rivera in "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Chita Rivera in “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Originally presented at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2001, the show has seen several incarnations, the most recent being this version that ran at Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, co-starring Roger Rees as Anton Schell, the ex-lover in question. Rees reprises his role opposite Rivera, and despite compelling performances from both; this is a show that should be laid to rest.

The Visit delivers some great theatrics: a crisp performance by Rivera, who sweeps into the action with an entourage of two white-faced eunuchs and her butler; Rees and family, which includes an interesting turn by Mary Beth Peil as his disenchanted wife Matilde; and an ensemble of Broadway regulars such as Jason Danieley and Elena Shaddow who invest full-throttle in a plot that goes nowhere.

They all tell the non-story of a bankrupt village faced with the decision to sacrifice one of their own to reap the benefits of Zachanassian’s spiteful revenge, for she has offered to bail out the town if Anton sacrifices his life. Various perspectives are revealed in stagnant flashbacks and present-day moral dilemmas—all set against an appropriately looming set designed by Scott Pask.

Kander and Ebb’s body of work, which dates back to 1965’s Flora the Red Menace starring Liza Minnelli and includes notable titles including Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman (also starring Chita Rivera) is often known for its accessibility and melodic structure. The Visit is more like a chamber piece, offering complex choral arrangements and rarely a string of notes that the audience can hold onto. While deftly executed, these aren’t show tunes you’ll be humming on your way to Sardi’s afterwards.

The cast of "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Directed with what has now become his signature stamp of ensemble shuffling, John Doyle maneuvers and manipulates the players with the help of choreographer Graciela Daniele. I’m not sure who decided that a coffin should be the one major prop, but after about 90 minutes of gloom and doom one wishes that the whole show could be sealed up and buried six feet under.

It’s a shame that this might be Rivera’s final major swan song to Broadway. Theatergoers will hopefully be lucky enough to have her visit the stage once again.

The Visit
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street
Open-ended run

What the other critics are saying:

“Kander just can’t help himself. Even in what may well be his darkest work, he writes beautiful romantic melodies. So there are some lovely moments in this show — specifically, those moments when love and forgiveness seem to stand a chance. Chita and Rees are captivating when they find themselves “In the Forest Again,” where they once made love. And Chita is breathtaking in “Love and Love Alone,” the gorgeous ballad for the pas de deux in which she dances with her own younger self. But taken in the context of the material, love and forgiveness don’t really stand a chance in the heart of a vengeful woman.” Variety

“A second-tier Kander and Ebb score is better than a lot of musical craftsmen’s best, which makes The Visit a welcome curiosity, even it’s sure to be a commercial challenge. Finally reaching Broadway after almost 15 years of false starts, the show arrives in a bewitchingly designed production from director John Doyle that magnifies its alluring qualities and masks some of its imperfections. It’s an arresting vehicle for the indomitable Chita Rivera, who has stuck with the project throughout its troubled history, and she remains a uniquely steely stage presence at 82 — graceful, dignified and commanding.” The Hollywood Reporter

The Visit isn’t for everyone. But Mr. Kander and his late, lamented partner never wrote a finer score, and if you find (as Somerset Maugham put it) that there isn’t much kick in the milk of human kindness, then you’ll thrill to their cruel tale of what men who dare to call themselves decent will do to one another if the price is right.” The Wall Street Journal

“Lost” Liza Minnelli Album Available At Last

March 27th, 2012 Comments off

Liza Minnelli Live a the Winter Garden. Image via Google.

Drugs. Bad hips. Worse husbands. You just can’t keep Liza Minnelli down. Even her long lost albums have a way of making comebacks.

After almost 40 years out of circulation, Liza Minnelli Live at the Winter Garden will be available next week on April 3 (and via pre-order now, exclusively through Masterworks Broadway) for the first time on CD and digital download. The remastered recordings capture her January 1974 Broadway concerts and include classic songs like “I Can See Clearly Now” and “A Quiet Thing”. According to the press release, the album “was quickly released by Columbia Records in April [1974], but had to be withdrawn from the market due to contractual conflicts over her performance of songs from the Cabaret film score, which were available on the then-current soundtrack album.”

Whatever else may be said about Liza, she’s a born entertainer, a talent that blazes through in her live recordings. Until you can get the album, want to see Liza in all her triple threat glory? Sit back and enjoy “Bye Bye Blackbird” from Liza with a Z. How many movie stars today could handle the complexity of this Bob Fosse choreography and do it with such joyful flair?

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