The concert opened with a thrilling overture drawn from the lilting and rousing melodies of the Music Honoree Mr. Menken. It was performed by the 78-piece orchestra under the commanding musical direction of conductor Steven Reineke.
The effusive Mr. Reineke was the gregarious host as well of the swiftly paced program offering commentary about the selections and the vocalists. Reineke paid tribute to the multiple-award-winning composer and a spotlight shone on the beaming Menken seated up in a box at Carnegie Hall, who waved and bowed. Virtually of all the performers were recreating roles that they played in the original incarnations of the material.
That was topically confirmed by the charismatic Nick Cordero who is currently starring on Broadway in A Bronx Tale. “One of the Great Ones” sounded like a Frank Sinatra tune from his swinging heyday and Mr. Cordero’s magnetic presence further channeled that comparison.
Cheryl Freeman, Roz Ryan, Vaneese Thomas and Lillias White reunited to perform a raucous “Zero to Hero” from Hercules as the Muses. That film’s Roger Bart sang a lively “Go to the Distance.”
Written by Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, Little Shop of Horrors was a 1982 hit musical that began Off-Off Broadway. Its success led to the team being courted by the Walt Disney Company to write animated movie musicals for them. This instigated “The Disney Renaissance” where the studio produced one classic film after another. “Suddenly Seymour” from that landmark show was marked by a captivating duet between Kerry Butler and Corey Cott.
Wearing a sequined, rich blue nautical ensemble Jodi Benson gorgeously sang Ariel’s “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Harvey Fierstein was in all his growling splendor for Ursula’s wicked “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
Aladdin was represented by Adam Jacobs’s “Proud of Your Boy” and Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart’s wild song and dance routine of “Friend Like Me.” Patina Miller rocked “Fabulous, Baby!” from Sister Act. Judy Kuhn’s definitive “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas was lovely. “Home” from Beauty and the Beast was wonderfully sung by Susan Egan. Michael Arden’s “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was affecting.
From Newsies there was a delightful sequence with Ashley Brown accompanied by cancer stricken children from the Ronald McDonald House New York hilariously miming actions as she sang “High Times, Hard Times.” The Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble decked out in period newsboy and urchin costumes appeared for a joyous “Seize the Day,” terrifically choreographed by the event’s director Cynthia Thole.
Twenty middle school students from the educational program Kids on Stage performed with the New York Pops for thundering treatment of Reineke’s original composition “Celebration Fanfare.”
Six employees of American Airlines came onstage to accept the citation on behalf of the company for Corporate Honoree Philanthropists Hillary and Bill Weldon who received their Foundation Honoree designation afterward.
As the exhilarating evening concluded, Menken came onstage and sat at the piano. He emotionally related that tomorrow was the 75th wedding anniversary of his 97 and 95-year-old parents. He then played and wistfully sang a medley that included “A Whole New World,” from Aladdin, “King of New York” from Newsies and “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid.
The stirring finale had the entire cast lined up for a euphoric “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast with Angela Lansbury and Alan Menken moving together arm in arm.
The New York Pops’ 35th Birthday Gala, “Part of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken” (April 30, 2018)
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium, 881 7th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-247-7800 or visit http://www.carnegiehall.org
For information on The New York Pops, visit http://www.newyorkpops.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission