Oscar E Moore from the rear mezzanine for Talk Entertainment.com
The only thing missing was the cake. But I suppose that was served at the black tie dinner and dance at the Pierre Hotel which followed this wonderful concert Monday evening April 27th celebrating the New York Pops’ 26th birthday, the 10th Anniversary of Michael Feinstein’s Feinstein’s at Lowes Regency, the American premiere of Stephen Flaherty’s American River Suite with lyrics by William Schermerhorn which was commissioned for the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks which will be telecast on NBC, a salute to the New York Pops’ Salute to Music educational program, the Kids in the Balcony – which is free for them and perhaps their first experience at Carnegie Hall and a rock band Bad Habits comprised of kids surviving cancer. That was only the first half hosted by Liz Smith in her own down home style.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Ensemble started with the stirring and powerful Ceremonial Fanfare for Brass and Percussion. Taking over the baton was Steven Reineke who will officially take over as Musical Director of the New York Pops in October. It was a varied and fabulous program that was presented. Brian D’Arcy James, leaving his Shrek costume back at the Broadway theatre and showing off his handsomeness sang “Who I’d Be” from his hit show. Loved it.
What better way to get kids interested in live theatre and both classical and pop music than to involve them in this concert. Bob Dorough and his Bobettes sang two numbers from his Schoolhouse Rock! – the very funny “Figure Eight” (dedicated to Blossom Dearie) and “Conjunction Junction”. I hope the kids look her up.
A Gershwin medley followed. No matter how many times you hear “Rhapsody in Blue” it still thrills. Even more thrilling was Rhea Olivacce singing “Summertime” and Daniel Billings, “The Girl I Love”. What terrific voices. These are two to watch.
What I really came to hear was Stephen Flaherty’s “American River Suite”. And I was not disappointed. Beautiful, soaring melodies, explosive sound, inspirational with a fiddle solo thrown in for good measure (Sara Caswell), the sweeping, you-can-see-the-sails billowing as we sail up the Hudson anthem with a message that we are one nation, truly free and we can share our dreams of dreaming. In five sections, two of which were sung by the incredible Anika Noni Rose and the wicked Idina Menzel. That would have been enough to satisfy me.
But the best part was after intermission when the likes of Barbara Cook who is presently singing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, Cheyenne Jackson with his mega watt smile, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Ashford and Simpson and Michael Feinstein sang their hearts out. Liza Minnelli made a surprise appearance to present her good friend Michael Feinstein with an award. But it was the audience that truly was rewarded. Barbara Cook is still sensational – her rendition of “No One Is Alone” was breathtaking. A dazzling Cheyenne sang “You Know How I Feel” and did we ever – he will be appearing with Michael in June in a show called “The Power of Two” – that should be something else. Book now. Brian Stokes Mitchell sang his signature “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific – without amplification. How thrilling to hear a natural voice that can project without a mike. It was absolutely moving and will not be forgotten. Ever. Never having appeared with a symphonic orchestra Ashford and Simpson felt right at home with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Ending the evening Michael Feinstein sang, in gratitude, “For Once In My Life”, holding out the last note seemingly forever and getting the audience to their feet in gratitude for a wonderful concert. What a night!
Proceeds from the 26th Birthday Gala support The New York Pops and its free Education Programs. www.newyorkpops.org