Our Guy, Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman

 

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Review by Marilyn Lester

 

 

 

 

Five-time Tony winner Cy Coleman was a child prodigy who, at the age of six, was giving piano recitals in venues such as Carnegie Hall, morphing later in life into a jazz pianist of note. In 1960, at age 31, Coleman switched gears to start a truly remarkable theater career. His first venture was “Wildcat,” with lyricist Carolyn Leigh, which produced the hit song, “Hey, Look Me Over,” one of the gems, sung by Cady Huffman, in this exquisite collection of Coleman crown jewels.

Huffman, a Tony winner (“The Producers”), together with Tony winners Lilias White (Coleman’s “The Life”) and Randy Graff (Coleman’s “City of Angels”), comprised a fearsome trio of diva power which exploded onto the stage with a medley of songs: “Big Spender,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” and “Hey There Good Times.” These Broadway babes vamped and swung, moving into an energy-up version of “Witchcraft,” with a terrific chemistry and respect for each other’s uniqueness. Each was a master of maintaining her own individuality yet also blending in a splendid harmonic unity – something like witchcraft. This magic carried on later in the set with the trio’s rendition of “Little Me.”

For solo turns, White performed “Sweet Charity’s” “Where Am I Going” and later in the show sang “He Was Cool.” Huffman, who was Tony-nominated for “Will Rogers Follies” sang “No Man Left For Me” from that show, as well as “Will-a-Mania,” donning a ten-gallon hat for effect. Graff took her turn with “Come Summer,” a 1971 stand-alone ballad, written with Carolyn Leigh, and another, “It Amazes Me,” written with Leigh in 1958. In contrast to the big, power voices of White and Huffman, Graff’s is more gently modulated and very suited to such ballads, although she’s not a stranger to opening up and going full throttle.

Graff and Huffman shared a duet on “What You Don’t Know About Women,” handling the David Zippel lyrics with precision. Both Graff and White met and worked with Coleman, the former with “City of Angels” and the latter with “The Life.” Each shared her experiences of meeting the man in question. Graff’s reminiscence led to “Nobody Does It Like Me” from “Seesaw,” followed by “You Can Always Count On Me” from “City of Angels.” White electrified with “The Oldest Profession,” clearly demonstrating why she won the Tony Award for her role in that show.

Music Director and pianist, Eugene Gwozdz, a magician who can extract maximum audio power from any instrument he touches or is near, bravely made his singing debut at the keys with “Real Live Girl.” Beside creating beautifully-crafted arrangements for the set, Gwozdz led a finely attuned crew of musicians: Chris Reza on reeds, Adam Neely on bass, and Jeremy Yaddaw on drums. Reza’s alto sax, plus turns on the flute and clarinet provided an extra dimension and depth to the play list and to the band’s show-piece, “Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like.”

At the end of the set the powerhouse diva three delivered a mighty “It Started With A Dream,” a Zippel collaboration that Coleman himself said is “a tribute, even a love letter, to creative people everywhere. The encore number, “It’s Not Where Your Start, It’s Where You Finish,” with its lyric “you’re gonna finish on top” summed up this bright success of a show – conceived and directed by Will Nunziata. Nunziata, a performer himself, has a keen sense of the stage and how to keep what’s happening on it energized and well-paced. The musical choices and construction of the set list proved smart and lively. As a young director with a promising future in front of him, he should know “the best is yet to come.”

Our Guy, Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman, May 15, 16 and 20 at 7 PM

54 Below,  254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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