by Stewart Schulman
The only thrill greater than collaborating on some creative endeavor with others is witnessing the fruits of that labor. Since its premier concert at Carnegie Hall on April 8, 1983, The New York Pops has thrilled audiences with the kind of artistic collaborations that have made it the largest independent pops orchestra in the United States. If the enthusiastic response of the black-tie crowd at Carnegie Hall this past Monday was any indication, it’s safe to say “The thrill’s still there!” The Pops just turned 30, and it’s getting better with age.
The 2013 Gala on April 29th honored legendary greats Jule Styne, Frank Loesser and Danny Kaye—and the collective efforts of the star-studded cast, the Pops orchestra, the Ronald McDonald House Rockin’ the House Band and Chorus, the Camp Broadway Kids, and The New York Pops Salute to Music Students, hit it out of the park! Whether it was the astonishing array of show-stopping songs, the fabulous stars performing them, the amazing orchestra backing them up, or the hopeful young guest artists enjoying their Carnegie Hall debut moment, the evening was a testament to the power of the collaborative spirit.
The concert was conducted by Maestro Steven Reineke and hosted by eight-time Emmy Award winner Paula Zahn. It began with Jule Styne’s overture from the Broadway musical Gypsy—one of the greatest overtures ever written. When performed by that incomparable 78-piece orchestra, the overture started the evening off with a bang. The show concluded with The New York Pops Salute to Music Students, (with special guest Ilana Lax), performing Victor Herbert’s “Festival March”—The Pops’ debut piece at Carnegie Hall 30 years ago. What came between was nothing short of thrilling.
The adorable Camp Broadway Kids kicked off the choral segment of the evening with a medley from Gypsy, followed by a cavalcade of stars. Stephanie J. Block belted out “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Betsy Wolfe crooned a sultry “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and Laura Osnes offered up a velvety version of “People,” all three songs from Funny Girl.
Next up was Laura Benanti’s gorgeous soprano rendition of “Neverland” from Peter Pan, followed by Leslie Uggams’ incredible vocal styling on “My Own Morning” from Hallelujah, Baby!, and Megan Hilty’s frothy “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This concluded the salute to Jule Styne—whose collaborations with Stephen Sondheim, Bob Merrill, Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Leo Robin spawned the aforementioned songs.
A video tribute in honor of Danny Kaye’s birth centennial followed, introduced by his daughter Dena Kaye. Reminiscing about her famous father, she spoke of how he met his wife and frequent collaborator Sylvia Fine, of his uniqueness as an artist, and of his humanitarianism as a man. And then there were the famous film clips. During his incredible career, David Daniel Kaminsky, aka Danny Kaye, starred in seventeen movies, most notably The Kid from Brooklyn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Inspector General, Hans Christian Andersen, White Christmas, and The Court Jester. Whether singing, dancing or acting, making us laugh or breaking our hearts, or even traveling the world as the first ambassador-at-large of UNICEF, Danny Kaye was a ‘oner.’ But, it was through his myriad collaborations that Danny Kaye became the legend that he is.
The final part of the evening honored the contributions of composer/lyricist Frank Loesser. Kelli O’Hara (sounding as silky and buttery-voiced as Doris Day) joined with Ronald McDonald House Rockin’ the House Band and Chorus to perform “Inchworm”—with Paula Zahn on cello, (!!), followed by the ever gracious and elegant Donna Murphy singing “The Ugly Duckling” to a group of Camp Broadway Kids—both songs from Hans Christian Andersen. Nick Adams, Will Chase, and Max Von Essen harmonized beautifully on “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls. And Rob McClure gave Ray Bolger a run for his money with his crooning and hoofing on “Once in Love with Amy” from Where’s Charley?.
Liz Callaway wowed with a medley of “How to Succeed/I Believe in You” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Kelly O’Hara offered a riveting emotionality on “Somebody, Somewhere” from The Most Happy Fella. Anthony Warlow made a memorable Carnegie Hall debut with “Rosabella” from The Most Happy Fella. And Marilyn Maye dazzled an already dazzled crowd with the haunting sounds of her buttery voice on “Joey, Joey, Joey” from The Most Happy Fella and “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls. The lady is still a powerhouse!
All in all, the New York Pops 30th Birthday Gala was one to remember. After 30 years of inspiring audiences with some legendary collaborations, The New York Pops is still going strong!