By Ron Fassler
In front of a sold-out Valentine’s Day crowd, the New York Pops dialed it up to 11 at Carnegie Hall last night with I’m Every Woman: Divas on Stage. Musical Director and Conductor Steven Reineke concocted a terrific evening dedicated to great female song stylists representing multiple genres— from Dolly Parton to Aretha Franklin to Carole King to Joni Mitchell. Joining in the festivities were three unique guest artists: Mandy Gonzalez, Carrie Manolakos and Alex Newell. Each divas in their own right, they made for an eclectic, exciting and highly gifted group— whether singing solo, duets or trios. Though she wasn’t represented on stage, all I could think of was Helen Reddy and “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!”
After opening with a symphonic medley of Diana Ross’s greatest hits, Mandy Gonzalez (taking a night off from Hamilton, where she plays Eliza), wowed the crowd with “Skyfall,” Adele’s Academy Award winning Bond song. She followed it with a poignant “Someone to Watch Over Me” in the style of Ella Fitzgerald— by way of the Nelson Riddle arrangement from her definitive 1959 Gershwin album. Gonzalez, who created one of the leads in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough musical In the Heights, is a formidable power to be reckoned with. Stunningly beautiful in each of the five (!) gowns she wore throughout the show, she gave off effortless class and a joy of performing that made my heart sing.
Then came Carrie Manolakos, new to my eyes and ears. Like Gonzalez, a former Elphaba in Wicked, she managed to bring a freshness to everything she sang— including one of her own compositions (where she played the piano). Her deeply felt “Both Sides Now” and “I Will Always Love You” made you forget the original artists and those seminal first recordings. In a duet with Gonzalez late in the evening, the fabled Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” was an emotional whirlwind. I almost expected them to do it all over again, due to the audience’s ovation (which would have been fine with everyone there, I’m sure). Manolakos is the real deal and I took to YouTube immediately upon returning home from the concert to catch up with her wonderfully diverse music videos and recordings.
Then— to out-diva the divas— came Alex Newell (dressed in a sequined gown, a boa stole and impossibly high high-heeled shoes), who gave us personal and full-throated ballads and anthems that simply rocked the house. I was fortunate to have been in the audience at the opening night of Once On This Island in 2018 when Newell made his Broadway debut. In an unforgettable display of soaring passion, his singing “Mama Will Provide” had such opening nighters as Billy Porter and Titus Burgess leaping to their feet mid-show.
Starting with “I (Who Have Nothing),” made famous by the English siren Shirley Bassey, Newell then launched into Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” But saving the best for last, he served as the evening’s closer with “I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Believe me… after that it was time to go home.
Although… they did find room for an encore after that. For the third time in the evening the three performed as a trio: It was a stirring rendition of (what else?) “I’m Every Woman.” And—like the entire rest of the entire show—it was a knockout.
Photos: Genevieve Rafter Keddy
I’m Every Woman: Divas on Stage
Performed at Carnegie Hall on February 14, 2020.
Upcoming: Movie Night: The Scores of John Williams on March 27 and the orchestra’s 37th Birthday Gala honoring Kristen and Bobby Lopez on April 27.