By Brian Scott Lipton
Trust me, no one would pay – or even want to be – invited to a Lipton family singalong, but audience members lucky enough to be at Symphony Space on Monday, April 11 for All in the Family, part of the new Project B-Way/95 celebration of the Great White Way, were treated to a delightful evening showcasing the work of some very wonderful singers and musicians.
The evening began joyously with Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper joined by his kids, Alec, Lilli, and Eddie. They brought some delicious Manhattan Transfer-like harmonies to their striking renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” (with Lilli on lead vocals) and Stephen Sondheim’s impossibly beautiful “Sunday.” But the highlight was Chuck soloing (mostly) on Bill Withers’ moving, semi-spiritual “Grandma’s Hands” and bringing us to near-tears.
The silvery soprano of Sierra Boggess – joined by her sister, cellist Summer Boggess, and Summer’s husband, pianist Brian Hertz – rang out loud and clear on a gorgeous pairing of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Roberta,” which was cleverly preceded by Sierra reading some of the love letters her grandmother wrote to her grandfather during World War II. She then wowed the crowd with a pitch-perfect version of her now-signature song, “Part of That World” (from The Little Mermaid) which she had strikingly put together with the lesser-known “Can You Imagine” from the 1982 animated film Heidi’s Song (music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Sammy Cahn).
While an off-stage couple for five years–having met in the short-running musical Baby It’s You- – Zachary Prince and Brandon Uranowitz (a 2015 Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris) made their public duetting debut here, doing full justice to Richard Maltby and David Shire’s bittersweet “I’ve Been Here Before/It’s Never That Easy” about the perils of falling of love.
The first act concluded with the four Saunders siblings – Alanna, Claire, Heath, and Trent – whose youthful energy more than compensated for their occasional vocal problems. I particularly loved the boys taking on “You’re Nothing Without Me” (from City of Angels), which got an added kick from the subtext of sibling rivalry, and a stunningly arranged medley of three of Jason Robert Brown’s songs, “I Will Follow,” “All The Wasted Time” and “I’d Give It All for You,” was a masterful display of musicianship.
Kicking off Act II was the evening’s host, the affable Jeff Kready (who replaced Bryce Pinkham in Gentleman’s Guide) and his gorgeous wife, the fabulous Nikki Renee Daniels (currently in The Book of Mormon). They had great fun with “Two People in Love” (from Baby), and brought out their 5-year-old daughter to “help” with “Love is an Open Door” (from Frozen). But nothing really matched Daniels’ glorious solo on “Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home,” which she sung with great feeling.
The evening’s big disappointment was the absence of marquee name Kelli O’Hara (reportedly still fighting the flu), but hubby Greg Naughton and his dad James (of Chicago fame) brought down the house with the R&B classic “Soul and Inspiration.” Greg’s sister, actress/singer Keira Naughton, had us all laughing with her ode to grungy men, “Dirty and Disheveled” and the three Naughtons rocked out with “Johnny B. Goode.”
Saving the best for last (in my not-so-humble opinion), the two-hour show concluded with Aladdin hunk Adam Jacobs and his equally beautiful and talented sister Arielle Jacobs. He surprised me by not only taking on “I Could Be That Guy” (from Sister Act: The Musical) but convincing us he was a lovable loser destined to never impress the girl, while Arielle offered up a breathtaking rendition of Sara Barielles’ “When He Sees Me” (from the new Broadway musical Waitress). That would have been enough, but the pair went two steps further, with a perfectly performed “Suddenly, Seymour” (from Little Shop of Horrors) and a very sweet “A Whole New World” (from Aladdin) that left a big smile on everyone’s faces as they exited the auditiorium.
Meanwhile, my family still can’t find the right key for “Happy Birthday”!
Project B-Way/95 continues at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway. 212-864-5400) through April 20