By Ron Fassler
When it comes to the thousands of Broadway overtures written over the past hundred years or more, there is a general consensus that the one Jule Styne composed for his 1959 musical Gypsy (co-arranged by Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler) is still the one to beat. So it was a bold move that conductor Steven Reineke chose to begin his New York Pops concert last night at Carnegie Hall with a rousing rendition of this brilliant work, going against the grain of saving the best for last. In an evening devoted to not only overtures, but to dream ballet compositions and eleven o’clock numbers, titling it “The Best of Broadway” turned out to be the ultimate of truth in advertising.
In addition to the enormous Pops symphony orchestra, Reineke brought dancers from the New York Theatre Ballet (under the direction of Diana Byer) and singers from Essential Voices USA (musical direction by Judith Clurman), which gave the evening a delightful variety of performance. Familiar as I was with every choice on the bill, it is always a sensation when dozens of gifted musicians such as these take on iconic songs and dances. It is with fresh ears that I listened with a huge grin on my face to such personal favorites as the “Ragtime Prologue,” with music by Stephen Flaherty, and the “Quintet” from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story. And speaking of Sondheim, his music was represented by his “Sunday,” the Act One closer of his Pulitzer Prize winning Sunday in the Park with George in a joyful rendition, newly arranged by the Tony Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown. Its beauty was supremely heightened by the sheer number of instruments (far more than can be heard on its original cast recording), and the soaring voices of the chorale.
This is Stephen Reineke’s 10th anniversary with The New York Pops. He not only is a stylish conductor, but he played a charming host for the evening. He won me over completely when after the intermission he announced that the overture for John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago would feature a guest artist: fourteen-year-old Maggie Wakefield. Miss Wakefield, a trumpeter, won a competition that allowed her the opportunity to wail on the opening strains of “All That Jazz,” with its archetypal “Wa Wa Wa.” At its conclusion, when Reineke brought her center stage for a bow, the audience response overwhelmed this lovely teenager. As she stood basking in the applause, you could read her lips when she said to herself, “Holy Cow.” It was a moment to treasure. And when Reineke said that it wouldn’t be her last time performing at Carnegie Hall, it warmed the hearts of everyone in the house.
Other highlights included a symphonic arrangement of Jonathan Larson’s “Seasons of Love” (from Rent), all the more stunning backed as it was by this large chorus. Believe me that as many times as you may have heard it, you never heard it the way it was performed last night. And current Broadway was represented by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen, again backed by Essential Voices USA with precision and clarity.
As for the dancers who performed three ballets, repeating the choreography of the legendary Agnes DeMille, I was particularly taken with “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from Frederick Loewe’s Brigadoon. The other two were dances DeMille created for Oklahoma! (her first Broadway show after having achieved great success in the ballet world) and for Carousel, both with music by Richard Rodgers (as if I had to mention that). Danced on the tiny sliver of space at the lip of the Carnegie Hall stage, it was nothing short of miraculous what the dancers from New York Theatre Ballet were capable of.
All in all, a perfect night of nostalgic Broadway music and dance. I look forward to the next time the New York Pops puts together an evening as rewarding.
Photos: Richard Termine
New York Pops – November 16, 2018