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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.

 

 

Review: Broadway’s On The Town

October 28th, 2014 Comments off

by Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler

'On The Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway  Blog.)

‘On The Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

A star has been born on Broadway this season at the Lyric Theatre. Unfortunately you won’t see him onstage because it’s choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who has breathed new life into On The Town, the iconic American musical first staged by Jerome Robbins.

Megan Fairchild and the cast of 'On the Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Megan Fairchild and the cast of ‘On the Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Following the antics of Gabey (Tony Yazbeck), Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Ozzie (Clyde Alves), three sailors on leave in the Big Apple, On The Town is a celebration of the American songbook and an era of big, splashy musicals. Gabey quickly spots the girl of his dreams on a poster, “Miss Turnstiles” aka Ivy Smith (Megan Fairchild), and sets about finding her in the big city. The trio splits up and they each find their own love interests. Chip hails a cab from a big-voiced broad, Hildy (Alysha Umphress) while Ozzie stumbles across Claire De Loone (Elizabeth Stanley), a sexually starved woman of means at the American Museum of Natural History. Their stories unfold in classic musical theater fashion, with sweeping dance sequences, lots of shtick, and a resounding orchestra helmed by music director/conductor James Moore.

Originally inspired by Robbins’ 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he created for the American Ballet Theater, On The Town was expanded into a full book musical the same year with the help of music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (both of whom appeared in the original production). Multiple revivals have ensued, including the 1998 short-lived production that helped launch the career of Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of TV’s Modern Family).

Tony Yazbeck in 'On The Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Yazbeck in ‘On The Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

This latest incarnation set sail earlier this summer under the direction of John Rando (Urinetown) with much of the same cast and creative team at Barrington Stage Company. Mr. Yazbeck as Gabey is the show’s narrative anchor and delivers a Tony-worthy performance overflowing with charm, impeccable dancing and a crooning voice that echoes the great Rat Pack. As his love interest, Ms. Smith brings her New York City Ballet experience to the stage and is ravishing in Bergasse’s complex and demanding sequences. It’s a bit underwhelming when she opens her mouth to speak, and one wonders if Gabey’s infatuation might fade if there was an Act III.

His sidekicks do due diligence, offering laughs, acrobatics and endearing vulnerability. They fare better than their female counterparts, who feel more like cutouts than fully realized characters. (Though Ms. Umprhress’s jazz inflections are worthy of her own show at 54 Below or another such venue.) The hardworking ensemble meets the demands of the choreography and delivers some quirky character performances, including a pocketful of quick-changing accents from Stephen DeRosa and scene-chewing turns from funny lady Jackie Hoffman, who would run off with the set if she could.

From a technical standpoint, On The Town neither reinvents itself nor pays homage to the splashy productions of yesteryear. Beowulf Boritt’s sets and projections feel flimsy and at times even distracting with the extensive use of transparent and reflective materials, assumingly used to add volume to the vacuous stage. Jess Goldstein (costumes) and Jason Lyons (lighting) fulfill their Technicolor duties in spades. It is all but a playground for Joshua Bergasse’s handiwork and a sweeping score that reminds us that New York truly is a helluva town.

On The Town
Lyric Theatre
213 West 42nd Street
Open-ended run

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at www.roodeloo.com and follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

On the Town Returns to Broadway with Special TV Twist

July 6th, 2014 Comments off

OntheTownBroadway’s On The Town and FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance are teaming up to offer the winner of Season 11 a role in this fall’s highly anticipated Broadway revival, marking an exciting new addition to the TV series’ prize. The show’s winner, crowned “America’s Favorite Dancer,” will be offered the opportunity to join the On The Town cast in Spring 2015.

On Wednesday, July 9 (8:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed) on FOX, On The Town choreographer Joshua Bergasse (Emmy Award winner for Smash) will choreograph a performance of the show’s iconic opening number, “New York, New York,” featuring the Top 20 finalists.

On The Town, the classic musical comedy love letter to New York City, will return to Broadway this fall in a critically acclaimed production directed by John Rando (Tony Award® for Urinetown) and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Bergasse makes his Broadway debut as a choreographer with the production. On The Town will begin previews on Saturday, September 20, 2014 and officially open on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre (213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Tickets for the new Broadway revival of On The Town are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com.

The Bronx is up, the Battery’s down, and three sailors are hoping to get just a little bit lucky on their one day of leave in the Big Apple. From the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Coney Island to Times Square and Carnegie Hall, On The Town zigzags through New York City as the sailors and the three high-spirited young women they meet chase love, dreams, and each other during an unforgettable day in the city that never sleeps. The classic score features the standards “New York, New York,” “I Can Cook Too,” “Lonely Town,” and “Some Other Time” and will be played in this production with their original orchestrations, performed by what will be the largest orchestra on Broadway, with 28 musicians led by musical director James Moore (Follies, Ragtime).

The cast will be led by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line), Jay Armstrong Johnson (The New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd, Hands On A Hardbody, Hair), and Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It) – as the sailors on 24-hour shore leave who take on the Big Apple – with Megan Fairchild (New York City Ballet Principal Dancer), Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Elizabeth Stanley (Company) as the women who steal their hearts. Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, will make her Broadway debut playing ‘Ivy Smith.’

Created by the legendary creative team of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins, On the Town grew out of the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free, about three sailors on leave in New York, which debuted in 1944 with the American Ballet Theatre. The musical opened at Broadway’s Adelphi Theater later that year, directed by George Abbott, and played through February 2, 1946 for a total of 462 performances, transferring to the 44th Street Theatre and Martin Beck Theatre along the way.

The production will feature scenic design by Tony Award® winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Chaplin, Rock of Ages), lighting design by Drama Desk nominee Jason Lyons (Bring it On, Rock of Ages), costume design by Tony Award® winner Jess Goldstein (Newsies, Jersey Boys, The Rivals), and sound design by Tony® nominee Kai Harada (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet).