By Marilyn Lester . . .

Lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman are a pair of creatives that more than deserve the term “legendary.” For sixty or more years, they wrote for movies, television and theater, generating countless hits along the way. Their work garnered three Academy Awards (and many more Academy nominations), plus several each of Golden Globes, Emmys, and Grammy Awards. With the recent death of Marilyn Bergman in January 2022 at age 93, it was clear that a special tribute concert was in order—and who else to produce it (as well as write and host) than impresario Scott Siegel. Keep the Music Playing!—A Celebration of the Songs of Marilyn and Alan Bergman, at Feinstein’s/54Below, proudlyhonored the pair, with beautiful renditions reflecting their lyrical genius.

Gathering a handful of Broadway and cabaret stars, Siegel and company covered work that highlighted the full spectrum of the Bergman’s many contributions to the American Songbook. Thematically bookending the concert were two tone-setting tunes. Belter Haley Swindal powered through “The Way We Were” (Marvin Hamlisch, music), a hit for Barbra Streisand—and the most successful recording in the United States in 1974. Closing the evening was Tony-nominee Willy Falk, who built a splendid dramatic arc on “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (Michel Legrand), another Billboard charting hit in 1983.

The Bergmans often partnered with composer Michel Legrand, and representing this union of talent was Tony-nominee Melissa Errico, with three numbers from that canon. Her opener of a superbly animated and phrased “Windmills of Your Mind” was followed by emotive renditions of “You Must Believe in Spring” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel”—interspersed with very extended personal reminiscences of Legrand and his work with the Bergmans. On the piano for this set of tunes was the extraordinary Tedd Firth, whose playing and arranging hit his usual standard of sublimity—always a joy to listen to.

In the category of brilliant, artistic pianistic talent was Billy Stritch, who also sings and does that equally as well as his mastery of the eighty-eights. He gave life to “That Face” (music by Lew Spence, the man who introduced the then Marilyn Kieth to Alan Bergman) with a joyous, happy-making sense of swing. His arc on “Ordinary Miracles,” following a brief yet pithy setup, was stirring and dramatic.

Other highlights of the evening included Deborah Tranelli, a vocalist of elegance and astute interpretation of her material. She’s a singer who knows how to use her voice and so maximizes a number’s possibilities. She aced “Fifty Percent” (Billy Goldenberg), an incredibly demanding story song; her delivery nailed the lyric, a feat not in the wheelhouse of many who attempt it. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka’s precise, clear tenor on “Where Do You Start?” (Johnny Mandel) communicated the heartfelt nature of the song, with excellent phrasing. And on the “The Last Time I Felt Like This” (Marvin Hamlisch), Willy Falk added an impish twist from the opening lyric of “Hello, I don’t even know your name…”

Music director Andrew Bourgoin, who played for all except Errico, was full of good cheer and encouraging smiles. He’s a relative newcomer to NYC, developing his range and repertoire. Bourgoin is a solid accompanist, with the potential to develop a larger scope of creative ideas in playing and arranging.