By Brian Scott Lipton
While there may be no immediate connection between Tony and Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, who received the York Theatre Company’s Oscar Hammerstein Award on Monday, December 9 at the Hudson Theatre, and the legendary lyricist for whom the honor is named, you might be wrong. “Both are cockeyed optimists,” said Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization. “You have to be if you want to write musicals.”
The first half of the gala opened with warm remarks from the evening’s host, Broadway star Norm Lewis, a stunning-looking Bernadette Peters’ glorious rendition of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s beautiful ballad “Some Enchanted Evening,” and the presentation of the Founders Award to the York’s Chairman of the Board, W. David McCoy, who has worked with the company for over 35 years.
As dessert was served, the time came to offer a musical salute to Menken, featuring a selection of some of his best-loved songs, performed by his close friends and colleagues. Not surprisingly, the 75-minute revue was highlight-after-highlight: Lewis kicked things off with a soaring version of “Go the Distance” (from “Hercules”) and the rarely-heard holiday song “Have a Miracle.” Up next, the gorgeous Sierra Boggess re-created “Part of Your World” — her show-stopping moment from Broadway’s “The Little Mermaid” – before joining Lewis for the delicious duet “A Whole New World” (from “Aladdin”).
TV and Broadway favorite Zachary Levi wowed the crowd with his vocalizing and dancing as he did a dazzling rendition of another “Aladdin” tune, “A Friend Like Me,” before Tony winner Debbie Gravitte belted out “I Wanna Be A Rockette.” Then, Beth Fowler, the original Mrs. Potts in Broadway’s long-running “Beauty and the Beast,” performed a touching rendition of that show’s title tune. Not surprisingly, the crowd went wild when the breathtakingly beautiful Vanessa Williams stepped onstage to sing a thrilling version of “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas” (which she recorded for the film’s soundtrack).
Another former Hammerstein Award winner, Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz, then stepped up to the piano to belt out “snippets” of some of his and Menken’s best-known collaborations, including “Just Around the Riverbend,” and “Out There.”
Finally, it was Menken’s turn to accept the award. “I don’t know I would be up here without the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein,” he said, thanking his parents – who were in the house (along with his sister Faye and wife Janice) – for introducing him to the pair’s music. He then moved to the piano, where he played a wonderful medley of what he called his “pre-Broadway” work, ranging from special material to selections from “Little Shop of Horrors,” “God Bless You, Mister Rosewater,” and “Weird Romance,” before concluding with a section of “Santa Fe” from his current Broadway hit, “Newsies,” for which he won his first Tony Award.
It was the perfect ending to a truly enchanted evening!
*Video/Photos: Magda Katz