by Monica Charline Brown
On Friday night, March 18, 2016, pure magic was created at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in Lincoln Center. An installment in the American Songbook series, the front cover of the Playbill boasts: “Outstanding Artists, Intimate Settings, Unforgettable Evenings.” Without an iota of doubt, Chuck, Eddie, Alex, and Lilli Cooper made Lincoln Center proud.
It is unfathomable one family could be blessed with so much talent. The Coopers, however, wowed the audience and proved themselves. Chuck Cooper, the self-proclaimed patriarch of the family, is a Tony Award winning actor for The Life by Cy Coleman. In addition to his thirteen Broadway credits, he has acquired many television roles. All three children chose to follow in their father’s footsteps by attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. The eldest brother, Eddie, holds stage and screen prestige, while the younger brother, Alex, has pursued a career more driven by music. Lilli, the only girl, has gained acclaim as the first Martha in the original production of Spring Awakening, as well as by being an admired Elphaba (currently Broadway’s standby green girl). Individually, they are each stars, but together, they are unstoppable.
The Cooper Clan opened magnificently with a mash-up of the Motown hit “You’re All I Need to Get By,” made famous by duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Stevie Wonder’s “You Can Feel It All Over,” and the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” They hit each song separately first, and then combined them all in a studded arrangement. With the family grooving during instrumental breaks, climaxing in a scat jam session pretending to play instruments, I knew the evening would be delightful from the beginning.
Lilli began the next song, a stunning Michael McElroy arrangement of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” with a silvery, shimmery tone that gave the room chills. Her brothers backed her up, while her powerful control and head voice riffs shined through. Chuck took over leading the “ABC Blues,” reminiscing about singing the tune to his kids growing up, accompanied by Alex on the guitar and Chuck himself picking up the harmonica. It was then Eddie’s turn, of which he took full advantage with the CeeLo Green tune “Fool For You,” putting a sexy spin and fierce emotion behind it. Alex was next and showed off his guitar mastery and effortless cry pop falsetto with the seventies Bill Withers hit “Use Me.”
In true brotherly fashion, Eddie and Alex performed “Agony” from Into the Woods, with bravado and humor. Continuing the Sondheim cannon, Chuck and Eddie heartbreakingly nailed the father/son connection in “No More.” Finishing off this set, Alex and Lilli uniquely and superbly acted and harmonized Company’s “Being Alive.” The males had everyone rocking out at their tables with the crowd-pleaser “Steppin’ To The Bad Side” from Dreamgirls. What a wall of sound!
Just when you thought they couldn’t possibly turn it up a notch, they did. Lilli’s rendition of Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” is totally her own, with insane vocal gymnastics and justified storytelling side by side. Alex’s version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” is so cool and calm, but his slick electric guitar skills and strong falsetto are equally amazing. Eddie’s execution of Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” was a knockout, featuring his commanding vocal talent on top of piano, trombone, trumpet, and bass solos! Chuck grounded the excitement with a poignant Bill Withers song, “Grandma’s Hands.” I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
A lost treasure, “You There In the Back Row” from Cy Coleman’s 13 Days To Broadway led to Chuck pouring his heart out about the importance of art and dedication. He emphasized how making music more intensely, both metaphorically and literally, are a terrific response to the violence we all experience in the scary world we inhabit. The Cooper Clan finished with a breathtakingly gorgeous “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George, only to be followed by an encore performance of an acapella “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”
Joshua Stephen Kartes on the piano (also music director and arranger), Paul Brandenburg on trumpet, Darius Christian Jones on trombone, Kyle Shweizer on saxophone, Colin Dean on bass and Jacob Boulay on drums round out the extraordinary band backing The Cooper Clan. Lance Roberts’ direction is right on point.
The Cooper Clan All Together should stay together performing for a long, long time. Lincoln Center’s American Songbook unearthed quite a talent with these folks.
Photos: Kevin Yatarola
For more information, visit americansongbook.org.