by Matt Smith
It’s been said that a team is only as good as its leaders, and all those who know that to be true in the music world packed Midtown hotspot Feinstein’s/54 Below last Thursday night to salute renowned New York Pops conductor Steven Reineke on his ten-year tenure with the orchestra. The typically intimate venue was decked out for the lavish occasion; attendees noshed on nibbles from both a buffet-style spread and bustling open bar, while enjoying photos of Reineke’s most memorable moments at the podium, which flashed on the screens above the stage.
And, as any music aficionado might have hoped a Reineke-centric evening would be, it was all capped off by a musical tribute performance in celebration of the landmark achievement. And who more fitting to fete the honoree in song than frequent Pops concert headliner, also a member of the Pops Board of Directors, Co-Chair of educational network PopsEd Ambassadors, and all-around golden-voiced Tony winner Kelli O’Hara.
Backed by a killer band of four, and following remarks by New York Pops Chairman James A. Read, who beamed as he praised Reineke’s consistently “high energy, pure joy and great music” delivered with each wave of the baton within over 87 concerts throughout the last ten years—the Kiss Me, Kate-bound Broadway vet serenaded with an array of tunes curated from concert career highlights spanning her multiple collaborations with Reineke through the years, while reflecting on her own longstanding history with the maestro and his orchestra, which most recently culminated in a glitzy gala performance held in her honor in 2017.
Additionally, cleverly interspersing the selections, which ranged from O’Hara’s own South Pacific and The King and I to broader musicals like The Most Happy Fella and Saturday Night, all speaking to the quality of Reineke’s character while simultaneously showcasing O’Hara’s stellar soprano, were written tributes from the likes of fellow “leading ladies” such as Laura Benanti, Sutton Foster, Jessie Mueller, and Ashley Park, all of whom have also previously concerted with the man of the hour.
Foster, who appeared in the inaugural Pops concert at new summer venue Forest Hills Stadium in 2015, dubbed Reineke “a force…who’s totally game for anything,” while Megan Hilty, who headlined the Pops’ 2017 Holiday Concert, declared him one of the most “genuinely joyful and kind-hearted people on the planet.” Similarly, mainstay Laura Osnes commended his “enthusiasm and generous spirit,” while Park, quoting a phrase from her Mean Girls alter-ego, said he was, aptly, “so fetch!” But it’s Stephanie J. Block — who debuted under Reineke at the 2015 Pops holiday bash — who drives it all home, summarizing simply and distinctly the real reason behind why he’s so beloved: “He puts artists at ease… he makes you feel safe… when you’re with him, you know you’re in good hands.”
In short, as evident from the start and illuminated by the tributes from O’Hara and these ladies, he is truly, as O’Hara sings, “A Wonderful Guy,” embraced and adored by all who cross his path, and “the hills are alive with the sound of music” thanks to his incredible commitment to his orchestra and his craft over the years.
“I was scared to death to take this job,” Reineke said, on the subject, at the end of the evening. “But It’s changed my life for the better in so many ways.” With O’Hara at the forefront of the evening, remarking how, through their work with the orchestra, he’s been able to grant so many Broadway heavyweights their Carnegie Hall debuts, Reineke — acknowledging the contributions of his predecessor and New York Pops founder Skitch Henderson — vows to “continue the legacy of the New York Pops by bringing it into the 21st century and beyond.”
As for the personal change? Referencing the Bridges of Madison County opener O’Hara performed earlier in her set — a moment which visibly brought Reineke to tears — he continues: “Everything — everything — changed when I moved here. And throughout the last ten years, I’ve built a family here… I’ve built a community here.. I’ve built friends… I got married…” But perhaps most importantly, thanks to the warmth and support from New York audiences and artists alike, he says, with a telling wink and a smile: “I’ve built myself a home.”
Congratulations, Mr. Reineke! Here’s to the next ten!
Photo: Richard Termine
An Evening with Kelli O’Hara, commemorating Steven Reineke’s 10th Anniversary as Music Director and Conductor of the legendary New York Pops, was presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on January 31st. For more information on Reineke and the New York Pops, visit www.newyorkpops.org.