By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
People of a certain generation will remember the radio and television show “This Is Your Life,” in which host Ralph Edwards surprised celebrities and recapped their life and accomplishments with help from the guest’s family and friends. But if you ask me, Norm Lewis found a much better way to look back on his storied 30-year theatrical career: an extraordinary solo concert accompanied by conductor Steven Reineke and the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall on Friday, March 4.
Lewis had no one up there (beside Reineke) to narrate his story or share an amusing anecdote, but when you sing as beautifully and passionately as he can, it truly doesn’t matter. And the cleverly put together two-act program, co-created with Reineke and Richard Jay-Alexander, both gave the audience the hits they expected, along with some surprising choices,
Among the show’s biggest highlights: Lewis vocally tackled both of the lead roles in Les Miserables by delivering extraordinarily heartfelt versions of “Stars” (with Reineke having a blast playing Jean Valjean) and “Bring Him Home”; he proved why he deserved to be Broadway’s first African American Phantom of the Opera with a gorgeously seductive “Music of the Night”; and he gave Hugh Jackman more than a run for his money with a tremendously accomplished rendition of “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man — allin the first act.
In the second act, Lewis scored more triumphs with three powerful ballads: “Home” (from The Wiz); “Make Them Hear You” (from Ragtime) and “Being Alive” (from Company). He also had some fun by singing two songs originated by women on Broadway – both from shows in which he starred: “Waiting for Life” (from Once on This Island)and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (from The Little Mermaid).
Lewis also briefly ventured away from Broadway in the last section of the show with excellent renditions of Marvin Gaye’s still-timely protest song “What’s Going On” and the Bacharach-David standard “What the World Needs Now Is Love (Sweet Love).”
As for the Pops, they sounded consistently amazing, whether backing Lewis or shining on their own during “Pinball Wizard” (from The Who’s Tommy) or orchestral medleys from Les Miserables, Sweeney Todd and Jesus Christ Superstar.
And yes, Lewis did perform his big number from the Broadway version of Porgy & Bess, “I Got Plenty o’Nuttin,” proudly displaying his Tony Award nomination certificate in the process. But that was just showing off. We all know Norm Lewis has plenty o’plenty to sing about — and brag about.
Photos: Richard Termine
Next up: New York Pops 39th Birthday Gala on April 25th at 7 pm – the Songs of Kristen and Bobby Lopez featuring many of your favorite Broadway performers. www.newyorkpops.org. www.carnegiehall.org