Invoking the starry names and offering the music of the likes of Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Barry White, the New York Pops and its guest vocalists, under the baton of canny Music Director Steven Reineke, began the 2018 part of its 2017-18 season and kicked off African-American History Month by ‘throwing a party,’ on the stage of Carnegie Hall, billed as “Heart and Soul,” and saluting Rhythm and Blues. The illustrious Broadway guests were Capathia Jenkins (“Newsies’) and, making his Carnegie Hall debut, James Monroe Iglehart (“Hamilton,” “Aladdin”), and backing them up were Crystal Monee Hall, Michael McElroy, and Anastasia Talley.
A rollicking pairing of “September” and “Celebration” served as the evening’s overture. The singers introduced themselves with a joyful “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Strutting his stuff, Iglehart caressed the lines of love song “Let’s Stay Together,” and Jenkins, singing her favorite Gladys Knight song, gave us a gently rocking “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Iglehart’s solo was a haunting “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” in Fred Barton’s arrangement and orchestration. The Pops seized the spotlight for a pulsating “Love’s Theme,” by Barry White.
Soloists and backups collaborated on Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations’ number “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” Iglehart urged clapping and singing along with his and the backups’ “Sir Duke,” of Stevie Wonder, and we took him up on it. Jenkins remembered the iconic Whitney Houston with a glowing performance of Houston hits “I’m Every Woman” and ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” to cap the evening’s first half.
A rich symphonic medley of Diana Ross’ “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Touch Me in the Morning,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” in Reineke’s arrangement, saluted the living legend to begin the second half of the concert. The singers returned with the ever-popular “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Jenkins paid tribute to Michael Jackson with “Rock with You,” her favorite Jackson song. Iglehart’s ensuing sincere and thoughtful solo was John Legend’s “Ordinary People,” as arranged by Tedd Firth, with pianist Lee Musiker and the Pops as backups. Jenkins gave a nod to ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin with a rousing “Respect,” by Otis Redding, and the Pops honored ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown with a pairing of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good),” with some fancy hoofing by Iglehart. Iglehart returned for a spirited “Unchain My Heart,” by Ray Charles. Jenkins again recalled Houston with a bel canto solo: “I Will Always Love You,” in Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s song. The company’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” was the indeed uplifting, clap-along finale. A joyous “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was the encore.
The Pops announced that its 2018-19 season at Carnegie will consist of “Roll Over Beethoven: a Different Kind of Orchestra,” with Frankie Moreno, on October 19; “Song and Dance: the Best of Broadway,” with Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA and Diana Byer’s New York Theater Ballet, on November 16; “Under the Mistletoe,” the holiday concert, with Ashley Brown and Essential Voices USA, on December 21; “Unforgettable: Celebrating Nat King Cole and Friends,” with Billy Porter, on February 8, 2019; and, finally, “Movie Mixtape: Songs from the Silver Screen,” with Storm Large, Ashley Park, Ryan Shaw, and Ryan Silverman, on March 15. Visit www.newyorkpops.org
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