by Linda Amiel Burns
The Broadway Close Up Series at Merkin Concert Hall honored the music of legendary composer Harold Arlen with a first rate cast.
On December 7, 2015, The Broadway Close Up Series at Merkin Hall paid tribute to one of the towering composers of the American Songbook, Harold Arlen. Host Sean Hartley (Director of Theater @ Kaufman, musical theater division) served as a charming and knowledgeable host. He assembled a first rate cast of singers led by music director David Loud on piano, who wrote many of the special arrangements.
Harold Arlen was born Hyman Arluck in 1905 in Buffalo, NY, the son of a cantor. He wrote over 500 songs and collaborated with some of the best lyricists in the business, such as Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Truman Capote and Yip Harburg who is quoted as saying, “His songs live. His songs seep into the heart of a people, a nation, of a world, and stay there.” George Gershwin said, “Harold Arlen is the most original of all of us.”
The show opened with Billy Stritch on piano singing “Get Happy” from The Nine-Fifteen Revue, a song Arlen wrote with Ted Koehler that helped to put them on the map. Kate Baldwin and Matthew Scott sang the clever “Let’s Take a Walk Around The Block” from Life Begins at 8:40 with lyrics by both Yip Harburg and Ira Gershwin. Marveling that it took two geniuses to write the words, Kate and Matthew sang an amusing updated version i.e. “The Apple Store is hopping with people who are shopping, etc.”
Liz Callaway has been hosting the series for many years but had to leave for another gig, and said that it felt good to just sing and not be responsible for the evening. She sang a poignant, slow version of the classic song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” arranged by David Loud. Billy Rose, the producer of The Great Magoo, was listed as one of the writers and it bothered Yip Harburg that Rose didn’t write one word, but in order to get published in those days, songwriters had to agree to these conditions. Eric Comstock performed the brilliant “Lydia, The Tatooed Lady” written for Groucho Marx and was joined by his wife Barbara Fasano to sing two songs with lyrics by Koehler, “Let’s Fall in Love” and a song from the Cotton Club Parade, “As Long As I Live” introduced by a 16 year old Lena Horne.
Allison Blackwell made her series debut with a sassy “Legalize My Name” from St. Louis Woman, and later tore the house down with “The Man That Got Away.” The beautiful Kate Baldwin was flawless on “Old Black Magic” and “A Sleeping Bee” from House of Flowers. The first act ended with the trio of Matthew Scott singing “When The Sun Comes Out,” Allison on “Stormy Weather” and Kate with “Right as the Rain” each singing separately and together in a complicated David Loud arrangement that was simply thrilling and jaw dropping at the same time.
The dynamic Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) scored with “Buds Won’t Bud” from Hooray for What? and “Ridin’ on the Moon” from St. Louis Woman. Singer KT Sullivan (Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation) with Jon Weber on piano, sang a comic “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz and a lovely dream medley “This Time The Dream’s On me” and “Hit the Road to Dreamland” both with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
The remarkable Marilyn Maye, accompanied by the renowned pianist Tedd Firth, came on stage for the finale in a stunning blue sequined top to thunderous applause, and the applause grew even louder after she performed four Arlen standards. “I’ve Got The World on a String,” “Happiness is Just a Thing Call Joe,” an exciting “Come Rain or Come Shine” and ending with a dazzling rendition of “Blues in the Night.”
No Arlen show could be complete without the song that the Studio wanted cut from The Wizard of Oz. Arthur Freed, head of MGM’s Musicals Unit, threatened to leave if the song did not remain in the film. Can you image The Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” It became one of the most beloved and popular songs of all time. The sign of a great song is that everyone can put his or her own twist on it, and Joshua Henry performed it to perfection to end the show. The entire cast came back on stage to take many well-deserved bows!
For more info on The Kaufman Music Centre/Merkin Concert Hall
KaufmanMusicCenter.org/MCH. Phone: 212 501-3330