Lyrics & Lyricists at 92Y presented “Lenny’s Lyricists” on Feb. 24-26 to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial with host Amanda Green
by Linda Amiel Burns
The legendary composer, pianist, conductor, author, educator, and music lecturer Leonard Bernstein was born on 8/25/18 and passed away on 10/14/90. He will be celebrated this centennial year with many tributes and concerts, but the 92Y Lyrics & Lyricist series focused on “Lenny’s Lyricists,” the people who were fortunate enough to write with him. Artistic Director Rob Fisher’s said in the program notes,”Collaboration kindled Bernstein’s already blazing expressivity and versatility. Like a bee collecting nectar from as many flowers as possible, Bernstein connected with as many other artists as he could.”
His first collaboration was with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, having met Green in summer camp many years before. Together they wrote, On The Town, and Wonderful Town. Adolph’s daughter Amanda Green (a successful composer/lyricist /performer in her own right) served as a charming and knowledgeable writer/ narrator/ host of the show. She has an exuberant personality, and her contribution to the program was remarkable as she shared her personal story of growing up in the “business,” meeting many incredible people, and knowing the Bernstein family intimately, as Felicia Montenegro, Bernstein’s wife, was her godmother. Amanda stopped the show when she moved from the podium to center stage to sing “One Hundred Easy Ways” from Wonderful Town.
The show was deftly directed by Gary Griffin and the extraordinary band was led by Rob Fisher with Ray Wong on piano, Steve Kenyon on reeds, Dick Sarpola on bass and Erik Charlston on drums and percussion. The show opened with Rob and Ray dueting on the piano as the keyboard was projected onto the screen with four hands playing. The cast was excellent and wisely chosen with Mikaela Bennet (a recent grad of Julliard), Andrea Burns, Darius De Haas, Howard McGillin and Tony Yazbeck.
Act I concentrated on On The Town and Wonderful Town, both shows written with Comden & Green. First up was On The Town with the opening number featuring the guys Tony, Darius and Howard playing the three sailors arriving in the city and singing the iconic “New York, New York.” Darius scored with “Lucky To Be Me” and Tony with a dramatic “Lonely Town.” From Wonderful Town, the lovely new-comer Mikaela performed “A Little Bit In Love” and she and Andrea Burns sang “Ohio” together. Tony sang “Pass The Football” as he kept catching the ball thrown from the wings, and Howard was terrific in “What a Waste.” As the intermission approached, I glanced at the Program and saw that the song from Trouble in Tahiti had not been sung, when Rob Fisher came on stage to announce that Andrea Burns had been ill and he decided to send her home to rest hoping that she would be able to perform at the evening performance.
Act 11 featured Candide, Bernstein’s operetta from 1956 written with several lyricists. Howard performed “Ringaroundarosey” by John Latouche, who had been a difficult collaborator to work with, and Tony and Mikaela sang “Oh, Happy We” with lyrics by Richard Wilbur. West Side Story, written in 1957, is considered a true masterpiece and the lyrics were written by a young Stephen Sondheim. Stephen told Amanda that it was great working with Lenny and they never had a problem or bad word between them. Tony and Mikaela surprised the audience with the beautiful duet “Tonight” which had not been rehearsed, as well as the haunting “One Hand, One Heart.” A highlight was Tony’s exciting rendition of “Something’s Coming” as well as Darius singing “Cool.”
In 1976 Bernstein wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the esteemed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner but the show was not a hit and ran for only 7 performances. However, it did have a good score and the cast performed “Take Care of this House” in front of a projection of The White House, and the lyrics proved to be very timely in today’s political climate.
The perfect ending was the lovely song “Some Other Time” from On The Town sung by the entire cast. There is a lyric that expresses what the audience felt at the end of the show, “Just when the fun is starting, comes the time for parting. But let’s be glad for what we’ve had and what’s to come.”
Well, what’s to come are three more incredible L&L Programs this season.
Photos: Richard Termine
March 24-26 Irving Berlin: American
May 5-7 Lynn Ahrens: A Lyric Life
June 2-4 Frank Loesser: Lyricst
Visit: 92Y.org/lyrics or call 212 415-5500