The New York Pops season finale celebrates singers and songwriters who changed our musical landscape featuring a stellar cast.
by Linda Amiel Burns
The incredible New York Pops orchestra took their places on the stage of Carnegie Hall on April 21 for the opening number led by conductor Steven Reineke and played a glorious medley of Beatles’s hits by Lennon & McCartney called “Ed Sullivan Welcomes The Beatles.” The concert, “You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters” was the thirty fourth season finale and Reineke explained that this concert was going to be a fun “mixed tape” of music and song. In the program he writes, “by the middle of the 20th century, a cultural revolution was underway in the US. Reflecting the social upheaval of the 1950’s & 1960’s, a new popular music pervaded the airwaves and the national consciousness. Among those leading the charge were a band of singer-songwriters who supplied the soundtrack for a new generation, spanning genres as diverse as rock, folk, and soul. Their music and lyrics spoke directly to the times – which as one of the leading proponents proclaimed were “a-changin.”
Reineke assembled a line-up of multi-talented singers who had made their name in musical theater, but were able to do justice to a variety of material: Tony winner Jessie Mueller (Beautiful) and Tony nominees Will Chase (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), and Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along). The program consisted of songs by a variety of songwriters ranging from Dolly Parton, Carole King, James Taylor, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Adele, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ashford and Simpson, Bob Dylan and others.
Jesse Mueller can sing anything as she proved on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Elton John/Bernie Taupin’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” She didn’t disappoint singing Carole King’s “Beautiful” and a lovely rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Will Chase performed June Carter/Merle Kilgore’s “Ring of Fire” that Johnny Cash made famous. He also sang a moving “Bridge Over Troubled Water” written by Paul Simon, and John Lennon’s “Imagine” was perfection. The versatile Christopher Jackson opened with “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green/Willie Mitchell/Al Jackson, Jr.) and “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (Al Kooper). He rocked Carnegie Hall with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Adrienne Warren was amazing on James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” Another surprise was Adele’s hit “Hello” (Adele Atkins/Greg Kurstin) and “Think” written by Aretha Franklin and Teddy White.
Most of the time, the NY Pops celebrates the Great American Songbook but as Steve Reineke is quoted, “these songs have become as much of our cultural fabric as any Sousa march or Broadway standard.” It was thrilling to hear this material played with a full orchestra that was “really rockin’ it out” at Carnegie Hall. The show ended with the entire cast singing Ashford and Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and the audience couldn’t help but join in. As an encore, the cast took turns singing, Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and again we all jumped to our feet and sang along. Kudos to Steve Reineke and the New York Pops for a remarkable concert that closed their season, bringing us an unforgettable evening of music and song.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto