by Mark Lingenfelter
Alan Cumming proclaimed, “Even the orchestra is beautiful!” when he kicked off the New York Pops 32nd Birthday Gala Concert with his performance of “Willkommen” from Cabaret. In an evening that was a tribute to music honorees, brother and sister director/choreographers Rob and Kathleen Marshall, there were many fine performances from Broadway’s current theater royalty, as well as a Queen (Latifah) and King (Ken Watanabe, of Lincoln Center’s current revival of The King and I).
Under the watchful eye of musical director and conductor Steven Reineke, the 78-piece orchestra played songs from the Great White Way, as well as two film scores, all of which had a Marshall connection. The evening was dubbed “The New Golden Age” with a special focus given to songs from Broadway’s Golden era that one (or both) of the Marshalls have worked on in either revivals or television and film productions.
In addition to Cumming’s “Willkommen” from Cabaret, many other performers recreated their original roles for the tribute concert. Victor Garber gave us “Those Were the Good Old Days” from the 1994 revival of Damn Yankees, Brian Stokes Mitchell hammed up “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” from Kiss Me, Kate, and Sutton Foster returned to the Pops for the first time since her Carnegie Hall debut earlier this season to belt the title song from the 2011 Broadway revival of Anything Goes.
As a nod to the film version of Nine, Laura Benanti gave us a lovely and simple “Unusual Way” from the Maury Yeston score and Kelli O’Hara showed up on her night off from The King and I to deliver the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me” from Nice Work if You Can Get It. But it was surprise guest Renee Fleming, who starred in this season’s short-lived Living On Love, who brought down the house with her unamplified rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. That moment has us all living on love… for Renee.
There were two moments in the concert that tugged at the heartstrings and both involved the next generation of performers. Camp Broadway, billed as “Broadway’s original enrichment program for theater-loving kids” showed up to sing an energetic “76 Trombones” from The Music Man. I don’t know how many campers there were, but it seemed as if there was a least one for each trombone! And Rob McClure, of the recently closed Honeymoon in Vegas, arrived with some friends from the Ronald McDonald House New York to sing “You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile” from Annie, a number that certainly put smiles on the entire Carnegie Hall audience.
The evening wrapped up with three Kander and Ebb selections. Bebe Neuwirth pumped iron with her mic stand during the vamp leading into “All That Jazz” from Chicago. This woman’s shoulder isolations and voice don’t age! Queen Latifah was good to us when she recreated her “When You’re Good to Mama” from the film version of Chicago. And Cumming led the cast (including those kids!) in a finale of “Cabaret.”
Be sure to check out the Pops at their summer home this August at the Forest Hills Stadium in Forest Hills, Queens. August 6 will feature Sutton Foster and August 7 will feature Pink Martini.
The NY Pops 2015-2016 season kicks off Friday, October 9 with My Favorite Things: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Curious about the Rob and Kathleen Marshall theatrical timeline? Take a look at some of their most notable projects!
2014 – Into the Woods film (director)
2009 – Nine film (director)
2002 – Chicago film (director)
2014 – Cabaret revival (co-direction and choreography)
1998 – Little Me revival (direction and choreography)
1998 – Cabaret revival (co-direcdtion and choreography)
1996 – A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (choreography)
1995 – Victor/Victoria (choreography)
1994 – Damn Yankees revival (choreography)
2015 – Living on Love (direction)
2012 – Nice Work If You Can Get It (direction and choreography)
2011 – Anything Goes revival (direction and choreography)
2007 – Grease revival (direction and choreography)
2006 – The Pajama Game revival (direction and choreography)
2003 – Wonderful Town revival (direction and choreography)
2003 – Little Shop of Horrors revival (choreography)
2001 – Follies revival (choreography)
2002 – Seussical (choreography)
1999 – Kiss Me, Kate revival (choreography)