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92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “New York: Songs of the City”

Twenty-five classic and lesser known NYC themed songs were mostly well performed during this pleasant concert that could have used more edgy material.

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La Tonya Hall, Billy Stritch, Jeffrey Schecter, Klea Blackhurst, Leslie Kritzer and Darius de Haas as they appeared in “New York: Songs of the City” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

La Tonya Hall, Billy Stritch, Jeffrey Schecter, Klea Blackhurst, Leslie Kritzer and Darius de Haas as they appeared in “New York: Songs of the City” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

“Waiting for The B Train,” by Christine Lavin, about a NYC subway rider speculating over something hairy on the tracks, was drolly performed with suspense by Jeffrey Schecter at 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series, “New York: Songs of the City.”

Due to the song’s unfamiliarity, it was a highlight of this pleasant concert of 25 New York City themed songs.  The program was heavy on classics but also contained lesser known ones like Ms. Lavin’s.  Apart from a few wistful numbers, the show was primarily upbeat in tone.  Considering the large amount of material on the subject, a few edgier selections for the sake of variety would have been welcome.

Of course, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s, “New York, New York,” was included.  Instead of its usual brash anthem style delivery, Darius de Haas sang it slowly and pointedly, revealing its poignant meaning of someone wanting to move to New York.  His powerfully melodious voice also was heard to great effect on an equally revelatory “Spanish Harlem,” by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector.  He also did a wonderful duet with La Tanya Hall of Joya Sherrill and Billy Strayhorn’s, “Take The A Train.”  His distinctive phrasing was in evidence for Mitchell Parrish and Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.”

Ms. Hall did a rich rendition of Vernon Duke’s, “Autumn in New York.”  She also led the cast in George Davis and John T. Taylor’s doo-wop, “Boy From New York City.”  Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, “Grand Central Station,” inspired by a 9/11 first responder interview, was a dramatic showcase for her.  She led the cast in the opening number, Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Call of The City.”

Comedy was very well represented by Leslie Kritzer’s show-stopping “Ring Them Bells,” by Kander and Ebb.  Her comic and dramatic gifts shone in “Times Like This,” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and Billy Barnes’ “Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair.”  A duet with Mr. Schecter of Tom Adair and Matt Dennis’s “Will You Still Be Mine?” was overly cute with them dancing.

Mr. Schecter was also in fine form with his cheerful presence during Stephen Sondheim’s “What More Do I Need?” and Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman’s “I Walk A Little Faster.”

Klea Blackhurst made several hilarious appearances.  These included Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Way Out West” and Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley’s “Rose of Washington Square.”  She and Ms. Kritzer were great together on the Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Leonard Bernstein’s classic, “Ohio.”  She did another fine duet with Billy Stritch of Dave Frishberg’s “Do You Miss New York?”

Mr. Strich’s swinging talents enlivened Rodgers and Hart’s, “Manhattan,” and there was a terrific Mel Torme style version of Carroll Coates and Peter Nero’s “Sunday in New York.”  His magnificent take on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” with the rest of the cast joining in, rousingly closed the concert’s first act.

Much of the concert had a smooth and lively jazz sound due to the superb musicianship of the band with Aaron Heick on winds, Jack Cavari on guitar, and Jim Saporito on percussion.  The noted vocalist and songwriter Jay Leonhart was on bass.  He performed a characteristically wry song of his, “Double Parking,” while playing his bass, as a solo number.

Klea Blackhurst, Darius de Haas, La Tonya Hall and Billy Stritch as they appeared in “New York: Songs of the City” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Klea Blackhurst, Darius de Haas, La Tonya Hall and Billy Stritch as they appeared in “New York: Songs of the City” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

John Oddo was a key figure in the concert’s success.  Besides being the music director and playing piano, he also was the arranger and orchestrator.  His skills in these fields gave many of the more familiar songs a delightfully fresh quality.

Lyrics & Lyricists artistic director Deborah Grace Winer was the show’s host. Charming, and with dry humor and passion, Ms. Winer delivered informative and entertaining commentary between songs.  Her funny material included riffs on Seinfeld, the high cost of pastrami, and King Kong climbing The Empire State Building: “Not everyone makes it in New York.”

She cited Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York” as a quintessential New York song for its matter of fact style, and for “throwing attitude.” That it was blandly performed here by Darius de Haas, Billy Stritch, and Mr. Schecter was quite disappointing.

The inevitable finale was Comden and Green and Bernstein’s “New York, New York,” performed by the entire cast, and dully choreographed in the manner of an undistinguished 1960’s television variety show.  Director Mark Waldrop’s staging was overall purposeful.

There was a multimedia dimension with Jessica Daryl Winer’s very fine line drawings of New York City images periodically projected behind the performers and the orchestra.  Also briefly projected were the names Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, and John Updike as performers delivered witty quotations from them.

“I love this dirty town,” said Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, the vicious newspaper gossip columnist in the 1957 New York City noir film drama, Sweet Smell of Success. 

Sweet Charity and Seesaw, both with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Cy Coleman, are musicals set in New York City that have some gritty songs.  With lyricist Ira Gassman, Mr. Coleman also wrote the often grim New York City musical, The Life.

As for films, there’s Midnight Cowboy, with it’s haunting theme by John Barry, and the songs, “Everybody’s Talkin,” by Fred Neil, and Harry Nilsson’s “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City.”

Then there’s Bob Dylan’s scathing, “Positively 4th Street.”

These examples of material with a harder edge come right to mind as possible options that would have added a bit of a darker tone to balance the prevalent sunniness on display.  Of course, that would have made this a different show. The one that was presented was moderately enjoyable on its relatively innocuous terms.

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “New York: Songs of the City” (March 21 – 23, 2015)

92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 96th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit http://www.92y.org

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (524 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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