On the exact date of Sinatra’s birth 100 years ago, Michael Feinstein performs with a swinging, 17-piece band. Known as “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” this multi-platinum-selling singer and pianist bases a very special evening on his smash albums The Sinatra Project and The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life. Recognized as one of the world’s leading interpreters of Sinatra’s repertoire, Feinstein landed a 2009 Grammy nomination for The Sinatra Project and a 2012 Emmy nod for his TV special, The Sinatra Legacy.
For his nationally syndicated public radio program Song Travels, Feinstein interviews and performs along with music luminaries such as Bette Midler, Neil Sedaka, Liza Minnelli and others. The PBS series Michael Feinstein‘s American Songbook earned the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Television Broadcast Award.
Feinstein has received national recognition for his commitment to celebrating America’s popular song and preserving its legacy. The Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative is dedicated to the art form and its preservation through educational programs, master classes and scholarships.
Ticket holders are invited to a lot of “Frank” discussion with arts journalist and author Will Friedwald and author Charles L. Granata during a free conversation from 6:30 to 7:30pm in the Chase Room.
Bernadette Peters (Photo: Andrew Eccles via The Broadway Blog.)
Last week Broadway icon Bernadette Peters graced the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). Draped in a sequined lavender gown (with dyed satin shoes to match), Peters delivered many of the songs she’s become known for, beginning with a jazz hot rendition of “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy.
In spite of some sniffles, the 67-year-old bombshell had the audience on its feet, and at other times in tears as she worked her way through her Sondheim repertoire, including “Buddy’s Eyes,” “Losing My Mind,” and “Send in the Clowns.” While her patter was charming, those who have seen her before recognized her bits between songs (no, she still hasn’t sold the house in Florida).
Backed by a combo that included Joseph Thalken (musical director/piano), Cubby O’Brien (drums), and Kevin Axt (bass), Peters captivated on sultry numbers like “Fever” and “Come On-A My House,” proving her musicality soars far behind the heartfelt ballad. Though the song list leaned heavy in the back-to-back ballad department, one can’t deny that she’s the real deal and a true Broadway star.
Fall programming continues with NJPAC and NJTV’s American Songbook Series, hosted by Ted Chapin:
(Photo provided by NJPAC.)
October 25, 7 p.m. Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends Featuring Jessie Mueller, Jarrod Spector and Marilyn Maye
(Photo provided by NJPAC.)
October 26, 7 p.m. Our Time: KT Sullivan & Jeff Harnar Sing Sondheim Featuring Catherine Russell, Seth Rudetsky, and special guest Christine Ebersole
And there’s more!
November 9, 7 p.m. The Real Sinatra Songbook Featuring Tom Wopat, Sue Raney and Kevin Mahogany
November 21, 6 p.m., 8:30 pm. Laura Benanti
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.njpac.org.
(l to r) Tony Yazbeck, Seth Rudetsky and James Monroe Iglehart. (Photo courtesy of NJPAC via The Broadway Blog.)
Remember that song Stephen Sondheim wrote about bleu cheese? Okay. You’re right. Sondheim did not write an opus to Gorgonzola, but it was a clever addition to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s (NJPAC) Annual Spotlight Gala, produced by the Women’s Association of NJPAC. The event, which was held this past Saturday, gathered Broadway’s finest for an evening of songs that celebrated Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday.
A brief awards video and ceremony kicked off the festive evening, honoring individuals who have made a notable impact in both Newark, where NJPAC is located, and throughout the local arts community.
Students (Jaci Coleman, Alexandra Salort, and Jacob Tall) from NJPAC’s arts education program then took to the stage with an impressive three-part harmony rendition of “Comedy Tonight” from Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. Music Director and the night’s host, Seth Rudetsky, introduced James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin) and Tony Yazbeck (On The Town), who performed “Agony” from Into the Woods. Iglehart, who is a member of the Broadway hip hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme, remained onstage and requested a theme from the audience. Someone shouted “Blue Cheese!” and Iglehart proceeded to riff and rhyme on the topic to enthusiastic applause.
Judy Kuhn (Photo courtesy of NJPAC via The Broadway Blog.)
Other highlights of the evening included a gorgeous duet between Judy Kuhn (Fun Home) and Vanessa Williams (Into the Woods), who performed a medley of “Losing My Mind” (Follies) and “Not a Day Goes By” (Merrily We Roll Along).
Stage stalwart Len Cariou, who originated two Sondheim roles (Fredrik in A Little Night Music and the title role in Sweeney Todd), made special appearances, first as Sweeney Todd, playing opposite the non-traditional casting of Iglehart as Mrs. Lovett, who amusingly sang “The Worst Pies In London.”
Cariou then shared an anecdote about how Sondheim told him that he was writing an 11 o’ clock number for his character in A Little Night Music. After book writer Hugh Wheeler had rewritten the scene, Sondheim came back and said, “I’ve written the song, but Frederik won’t sing it. His ex-wife Desiree will.” “Send In the Clowns” was the song, and Cariou—years later—delivered a sensitive and poignant interpretation.
Rudestky and his 8-piece band kept the evening moving along as the music director conveyed his usual witty banter with the evening’s stars.
The music continues on Oct. 15 as one of Broadway’s finest interpreter of Sondheim songs, Bernadette Peters, takes to the NJPAC stage for a live concert.
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.
Judy Kuhn (photo provided by GreenHouse Publicity)
While the tri-state area braces for a weekend full of chill and rain, the New Jersey Performing Arts center (NJPAC) forecast includes shining stars in rays of spotlight as it hosts their annual gala for the Women’s Association of NJPAC this Saturday, October 3 at 7 p.m..
This year’s event, under the musical direction of Sirius XM Broadway host Seth Rudestsky, will celebrate the songs of one of Broadway’s most well known composers, Stephen Sondheim.
Tony Award winners and nominees including James Monore Iglehart (Aladdin), Vanessa Williams (Into the Woods), Tony Yazbeck (On the Town), and special guest Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd) will present an evening of Sondheim songs. The program will also include a brief awards ceremony. Judy Kuhn, currently starring in the award winning hitFun Home, will also join the starry lineup. The Broadway Blog caught up with her to discuss the event:
BB: How did you become involved in the NJPAC gala and what can audiences expect to hear from you on Saturday night?
JK: Seth Rudetsky and I are old friends and colleagues and Oberlin Alumni! He asked me to participate which I am thrilled to be doing. The audience can expect to hear some favorite tunes, but I don’t want to give away which ones!
Judy Kuhn in ‘Fun Home’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)
BB: The Women’s Association of NJPAC shares the same mission as you with regards to Arts Education for students. Why is exposure to the performing arts so vital to younger audiences?
JK: I don’t think it can be overstated what arts programs of any kind do for young people, no matter their skills. It builds confidence, encourages and teaches self-expression and collaboration, all of which are crucial for success in any field they may want to go into.
BB: You are no stranger to Sondheim repertoire, having performed in his revival of Passion at Classic Stage Company. What is it about his vast collection of songs that inspires performers to constantly perform and reinvent them?
JK: No one writes for actors the way Sondheim does. He writes the way people think and speak, and the connection between words and music is profound. It is endless what you can explore in his writing.
BB: What is your all-time favorite Sondheim song and why?
JK: That is a tough one…I would say one of my favorites is from Passion: “I Wish I Could Forget You,” which Fosca sings to Giorgio in the form of a letter she dictates to him addressed to her. Complicated, layered and the most heart rending melody. I always loved that moment of the show.