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Familiar Songs & Some Surprises at NY Pops 35th Birthday Gala, a Tribute to Alan Menken
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   
photo by Bruce-Michael Gelbert
Alan Menken & Patina Miller, Kerry Butler, James Monroe Iglehart, Judy Kuhn, Lillias White & Steven Reineke, Steven Reineke & Alan Menken, Michael Arden
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The New York Pops’ 35th Birthday Gala, “Part of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken,” took place at Carnegie Hall on April 30, and this survey of three-and-a-half decades of Menken selections—from Broadway and film, from “Little Shop of Horrors” through the animated Disney musicals to “Newsies,” “Sister Act,” and “A Bronx Tale,” the songs written with the late Howard Ashman and then with Stephen Schwartz, David Zippel, Glenn Slater, Jack Feldman, and Tim Rice—featured familiar favorites, sung by singers who had famously sung them, and a couple of true surprises as well.
The big surprises were a previously unannounced and welcome appearance by Angela Lansbury, Broadway royalty, singing an eloquent title song from “Beauty and the Beast”—not a bad showing for a 92-year-old diva—and Harvey Fierstein, lending his unmistakable throaty rasp to “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Ursula the Sea Witch’s song from “The Little Mermaid”—talk about inspired casting!
Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke and his NY Pops began the evening with a rousing potpourri overture, made up of bits of songs we would hear sung later on, including “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Part of Your World,” “Colors of the Wind,” “A Whole New World,” and “Under the Sea.”
The retrospective of Menken and Ashman songs began with Kerry Butler and Corey Cott harmonizing in a brassily cheerful “Suddenly, Seymour,” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” Jodi Benson, who provided the voice of Ariel in the film “Little Mermaid,” recaptured the heroine’s wistful wonder in “Part of Your World,” originally orchestrated by opera composer Thomas Pasatieri, played here in a revised arrangement by Bruce Healy and revised orchestration by Gregory Smith. Representing “Aladdin” were Adam Jacobs’ moving, dulcet, and hopeful “Proud of Your Boy,” cut from the film, but restored on Broadway, and James Monroe Iglehart’s gleeful recreation, singing and hoofing, of the Genie’s lively “Friend Like Me.”
With heart, Judy Kuhn invoked Nature’s miraculous beauties in the heroine’s “Colors of the Wind,” by Menken and Schwartz, from “Pocahontas,” and Michael Arden yearned for a life beyond the stone fortress in a wrenching “Out There,” from the same duo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” with a long-sustained final note.
Cheryl Freedman, Roz Ryan, Vaneese Thomas, and Lillias White, four of the five original narrating Muses from “Hercules,” reunited to pour heart, soul, and plenty of voice into Menken and Zippel’s “Zero to Hero,” and Roger Bart, the original Hercules, voiced his youthful hopes anew, in a stentorian “Go the Distance.”
From the Menken-Slater musicals, we heard Patina Miller, bringing down the house by declaring “(Me, I’m) Fabulous, Baby!” as Deloris Van Cartier, in “Sister Act”—and fabulous she certainly was!—and Nick Cordero sincerely limning his love as “One of the Great Ones,” from “A Bronx Tale.”
Songs from Menken and Feldman’s “Newsies” brought beneficiaries of Pops educational programs to the stage, with critically ill children, from Ronald McDonald House, joined by Broadway’s Ashley Brown, touching us with “High Times, Hard Times,” and the Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble thrilling us as they sang and danced “Seize the Day.” From young singers, we moved on to young musicians, as Kids on Stage students joined the Pops musicians for the one work performed that was not by Menken, Reineke’s own sweeping and ringing “Celebration Fanfare.”
For the finale of “Part of His World,” Broadway’s Susan Egan embodied Belle once more in a sweet and questioning “Home,” from Menken and Rice’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Encores began with Lansbury’s distinguished contribution and continued with Menken himself taking center stage and cheered as he sat down at the Steinway to play and sing a medley of “A Whole New World,” from “Aladdin;” “King of New York,” from “Newsies;” “I See the Light,” from “Tangled;” and “Under the Sea,” from “Little Mermaid.” The tribute ended with the whole company reassembling to invite the audience to “Be Our Guest,” complete with kick line, from “Beauty and the Beast.”
The Pops 2018-2019 season at Carnegie begins on October 19 with “Roll Over Beethoven: A Different Kind of Orchestra,” with Frankie Moreno, and continues on November 16 with “Song and Dance: The Best of Broadway,” with Diana Byer’s New York Theatre Ballet and Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA, and December 21 with “Under the Mistletoe,” with Ashley Brown and Essential Voices USA. In 2019, Billy Porter joins the Pops, on February 8, for “Unforgettable: Celebrating Nat King Cole and Friends,” and Storm Large, Ashley Park, Ryan Shaw, and Ryan Silverman collaborate, on March 15, on “Movie Mixtape: Songs from the Silver Screen.” Visit www.newyorkpops.org for further information.


 

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