By Linda Amiel Burns
The Cast of “Getting to Know You:
Rodgers and Hammerstein”
(Photo credit: Richard Termine)
The 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics & Lyricist Series Tribute to Rodgers & Hammerstein shows that the brilliance of the songs and music of this legendary team will live forever.
Ted Chapin, president and executive director of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagen Company for over 30 years, served as artistic director, writer and host for this sparkling tribute to the Broadway theater’s most prolific and remarkable writing team. The concert at the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series was titled “Getting to Know You: Rodgers & Hammerstein” and there are many of us who grew up on these shows and their music is an integral part of our lives. However, there are those in the camp of “I didn’t they wrote that!” so that musical director, Andy Einhorn, director Sarna Lapine and Ted approached this with a “sense of discovery.” During their 17 year collaboration, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created nine stage shows, one movie, and one original television special Cinderella (now on Broadway) and time and time again, the genius of their combined work was “of two distinctly different artists who blended together in a unified whole.”
Ted put a first-rate team together as the orchestra featured two grand pianos played by Roberto Sinha and Greg Jarrett (associate musical director) with Dan Willis on reeds, Ray Kilday on bass, Rich Rosenzweig on drums and Emily Bruskin Yarbrough on violin. The singers, all Broadway veterans, could not have been better for showcasing this iconic material: famed soprano Rebecca Luker whose shimmering vocals are always thrilling, Mandy Gonzalez the star of In The Heights, Phillipa Soo (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening) and Lewis Cleale (Book of Mormon).
Phillipa Soo and Jonathan Groff in “Getting
to Know You: Rodgers and Hammerstein”
(Photo credit: Richard Termine)
The show opened with a medley of songs featuring the entire cast that lead to “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. “Cockeyed Optimist” became a trio with the three leading ladies and each sang a solo, with Rebecca singing “It Might As Well Be Spring” (State Fair), Phillipa, “Many a New Day” (Oklahoma) and Mandy, “I Whistle a Happy Tune” (The King
and I), and then the arrangement had them singing the three different songs in unison which it was exciting and unexpected.
There were several other surprises as “What’s the Use of Wondrin’?” (Carousel) is usually sung by a woman and Lewis sang it as giving advice to a friend, and he also performed one of the best renditions of the difficult “Soliloquy” from that show. Continuing with the gender switch was Lewis singing “Honey Bun,” Jonathan with “Wonderful Guy,” and Rebecca offering “This Nearly Was Mine” usually sung by a man. Mandy and Phillipa turned “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (Flower Drum Song) into a charming duet. There were two songs cut from South Pacific, one “My Friend” that director Josh Logan felt was not romantic or strong enough for Lt. Cable to sing and which was replaced by “Younger than Springtime.” Jonathan sang a beautiful rendition of this emotional song. The other, “Suddenly Lovely,” also cut from that show, has a melody that turned up in King and I as “Getting to Know You.”
Every song was well chosen to demonstrate the versatility and range of R & H and the singers all met the challenge. Rebecca sang the often neglected “The Gentleman is a Dope” (Allegro) and turned it into a showstopper. The show closed with “Edelweiss” (Sound of Music) that Ted said people think is an old Austrian folk song but was written by these legendary collaborators. It was the perfect ending for a wonderful tribute to a never to be duplicated writing team whose shows and music will live forever.
It is difficult to believe that this is the first time that L & L has produced a Rodgers and Hammerstein concert and it was certainly worth waiting for. Ted Chapin’s extensive knowledge and love for his subjects along with spectacular songs and arrangements, incredible singers and fine directing made this one of the most memorable concerts in a series that continues to thrill even after so many years. Much of the credit goes to artistic director Deborah Grace Winer who has brought in top talents to conceive, cast and produce these not to be missed concerts.
Next up in the Lyrics & Lyricists Series:
May 3-5 “Ziegfeld Girl: The Many Faces of Fanny Brice”
Ted Sperling, Artistic Director
May 31-June 2 “Panning for Gold: Great Songs from Flop Shows”
David Zippel, Artistic Director
Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Getting to Know You: Rodgers and Hammerstein” (April 5-7, 2014)
Kaufman Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit http://www.92Y.org/lyrics