Eight great singers sing the hell out of a familiar repertoire.
By Joel Benjamin
Every time I assume Scott Siegel has topped himself, he does it again. The Great Jewish American Songbook at Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center was the perfect combination of programming, casting and venue.
With a lineup of Farah Alvin, Christine Andreas, Chuck Cooper, Tonya Pinkins, Brian Charles Rooney, Emily Skinner and the youthful Josh Young under Ross Patterson expert musical direction excitement was in the air before a note was sung.
Each artist was given several slots in the program, displaying different sides of their personalities.
The only one-offer was Steven Lutvak, the songwriter of The Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder whose grandfather was “Bagel Maker to the Czar.” He held this very Jewish audience in the palm of his hand, especially with its final rhyme: “bialy.” You had to be there!
Also distinctly yiddishkeit was Jason Robert Brown’s “Shiksa Goddess,” about a nice Jewish boy in love with a beautiful gentile girl, much to his family’s regret. Josh Young hit all the right hilarious jokes. He also sang a meditative “Maria” (Bernstein/Sondheim) and a passionate “Vienna” (Billy Joel). Clearly this is a singer at the beginning of great career.
Farah Alvin opened the program with the modern lament, “The Way We Were” (Hamlisch/The Bergmans), but allowed her deeper emotions to show in a soaring “When the Sun Comes Out” (Arlen/Koehler).
Siegel stalwart, Rooney is always given the big, belting numbers. He went a little overboard in “Being Alive” (Sondheim), showed a softer side in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (John Simon) but found his truest voice in “Unchained Melody” (Alex North/Hy Zaret) which flew out over the audience on wave after wave of sound.
Emily Skinner has matured as a singer/actor and her new ripeness gave full sway to a tear-stained “If He Walked Into My Life” (Herman), a moving “September Song” (Weill/Anderson) and a truly heartbreaking “Send in the Clowns” (Sondheim).
Christine Andreas didn’t quite connect with “What the World Needs Now” (Bacharch/David), had flashes of gutsiness in “The Man That Got Away” (Arlen/I. Gershwin) but blew the house away in her risqué, sassy “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (Rodgers/Hart), where anything unsaid in the lyrics was made quite clear in her—may I say?—bewitching body language.
The final two performers gave peak of career performances as concert artists. Chuck Cooper gave magnificence to two old chestnuts: “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (George & Ira Gershwin) and “Old Man River” (Kern/Hammerstein), giving the former an unusual strength and the latter a poignancy that was piercing.
He joined Tonya Pinkins in “Have a Little Priest” from Sondheim’ Sweeney Todd making it a delightful romp. This pairing made visions of a Sweeney Todd starring these two feel like a possibility.
On her own, Pinkins took Irving Berlin’s tragic “Supper Time,” and, dressed simply in raggedly duds, all but expressed the oppression of Black Americans in one song, taking the audience’s breath away. She turned “But the World Goes ‘Round” (Kander/Ebb) into a world-weary anthem—just terrific!
Patterson’s arrangements were witty, colorful and totally apt for each number and Siegel’s narration entertaining as well as incredibly informative.
The Great Jewish American Songbook (February 5, 2018)
Streicker Center – Temple Emanu-El
10 East 66th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue)
New York, New York
212-507-9580 or visit www.EmanuelStreikerNYC.org
For more information: .firstname.lastname@example.org
Running time: two hours, no intermission