Music Director/Conductor Steve Reineke and The New York Pops. (Photo: Richard Termine)
By Billy McEntee
If Broadway’s greatest scores can’t be heard on the Great White Way, Carnegie Hall will have to do.
And what better ensemble to play those tunes than the New York Pops? Conducted by the effervescent and charismatic Steven Reineke, the Pops presented Song and Dance: The Best of Broadway this weekend in a rousing one-night-only concert at Carnegie Hall. Though the Pops playing the exuberant overtures from Brigadoon, Chicago, and Anything Goes would satiate any Broadway baby, the evening was enhanced with accompanying performances from Essential Voices USA and New York Theatre Ballet. But here’s a confession: no one — not the band, not the choir, not even the dancers — have the rhythm and panache of Reineke.
Competing with the Ballet is no small feat, but Mr. Reineke treated his rostrum like a personal dance floor. You might say he did more with less: the Ballet could gallop all along the stage’s apron while Reineke, confined to his wooden square, jammed to the blaring trumpets during Gypsy’s overture and grooved during West Side Story’s “Mambo.”
But back to the Pops: they delighted, as always, and were at their finest when flexing bigger muscles during more musically complex numbers such as “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George and the “Tonight” quintet from West Side Story. Essential Voices USA’s choir made for a lovely addition, occasionally stepping in to give word and life to the Broadway anthems. Most of the time, choir music jived with the tunes played, such as the title song from Oklahoma! or even “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, the evening’s closer. But for songs like A Chorus Line’s “What I Did for Love,” where a Broadway belt is necessary, it seemed out of sync to have it delivered by a classically trained chorus.
The New York Theatre Ballet fit in better here: bringing to life Oklahoma! and Brigadoon’s celebrated dream ballets, the 11 dancers recreated Agnes de Mille’s iconic choreography and donned show-specific costumes to heighten the production. These numbers, along with “Hornpipe” from Carousel, were energetically and proficiently executed.
Like the dances from these shows, most of the songs stemmed from the Golden Age canon. Still, a few modern numbers slipped in. Yes, Ragtime’s selections — with their themes of acceptance and immigrants’ struggles — made for compelling and timely additions, and that story’s turn-of-the-century setting made it musically align with many of the other scores. The sole outlier was “You Will Be Found” from the Broadway smash Dear Evan Hansen. While effective in giving the crowd a taste of contemporary musical theater, the song’s schmaltzy lyrics and pop melody made you crave the standards. But in the Pops’ capable hands, even the dimmest of songs can shimmer.
Coming soon from The New York Pops:
Under the Mistletoe
Ring in the holiday season with Ashley Brown (Broadway’s original Mary Poppins), who returns to the New York stage with this festive program of classic and contemporary carols.
December 21 and 22, 2018
In honor of the musical monarch’s centennial, The New York Pops performs all the songs that made us fall in love with Nat King Cole, plus special selections by the fellow legends he inspired.
February 8, 2019
Travel around the world, under the sea, and even over the rainbow as The New York Pops celebrates the soundtracks that have captivated generations of movie lovers.
March 15, 2019
Billy McEntee is a freelance arts journalist who has written for Vanity Fair, New Now Next, American Theatre, and The Brooklyn Rail, among others.