A magical mixture of Big Apple songs, a brilliant cast and jazzy arrangements.
By Joel Benjamin
As wonderful as the 92nd St. Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists programs usually are, New York: Songs of the City (Mar. 21-23) was something special, a golden cornucopia of songs about the Big Apple sung by an especially well-chosen, witty cast whose talents and personalities meshed. Host/Emcee Deborah Grace Winer’s narration was a smoothly perfect combination of information and entertaining.
Of course there were the expected songs—such as “Manhattan,” “Autumn in New York,” “Take the A Train,” etc.—but performed with unusual twists. “Manhattan” (Rodgers/Hart) had a winking, easygoing feel as Billy Stritch sang it. The Big Apple’s unofficial anthem, Kander & Ebb’s “New York, New York” wasn’t used as a finale as it usually is, but instead placed in the middle of Act I. It was slow, steady and passionate, taking Darius de Haas through a good portion of his big voice. The actual finale, refreshingly, was the Bernstein, Comden & Green “New York, New York,” the “helluva town” number sung by the assembled cast.
What made this New York program different than others were the rarely heard numbers like the opening, “Call of the City” (Oscar Brown, Jr.) about the hypnotic lure of this city. LaTanya Hall had just the right combination of hauteur and sexiness. Another oddity, “Waiting for the B Train” (Christine Lavin), was a hilarious vignette about an event in a subway station handled with youthful zest by Jeffrey Schecter who also had a lovely duet with Leslie Kritzer in “Will You Still Be Mine?” (Matt Dennis/Tom Adair).
Klea Blackhurst was her sardonic best belting “Way Out West” (Rodgers/Hart) and “Rose of Washington Square” (James F. Hanley/Ballard MacDonald), both about very Noo Yawk characters. She joined Mr. Stritch in a wistful interpretation of Dave Frishberg’s “Do You Miss New York?” that was quite moving. Leslie Kritzer’s version of the Liza Minnelli standard “Ring Them Bells” (Kander/Ebb) had richness and humor to spare. Darius de Haas was particularly sexy in “Spanish Harlem” (Leiber/Spector), a quick visit to a colorful neighborhood.
There were too many songs and too many fine performances to mention here. The richness of the show was almost overwhelming.
The jazz-tinged arrangements by music director James Oddo were particularly apt and played to perfection by Aaron Cavari (guitar), Aaron Heick (reeds), James Saporito (drums) and the very in demand Jay Leonhart who not played the bass but sang his comic paean to a stressful New York City problem “Double Parking.”
Lyrics & Lyricists has two more programs coming up this season, Irving Berlin in Hollywood (May 2-4) and To Life! 50 Years of Fiddler on the Roof (May 30 – June 2).
*Photos: Richard Termine
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists – 92nd Street Y
1395 Lexington Ave. at 92nd St. New York, NY
Tickets & Information: 212-415-5500 or www.92Y.org/Lyrics