Adding to the glitter of the evening was the inclusion of excerpts of ballets choreographed by the legendary Agnes de Mille, staged by the late Gemze de Lappe, and danced by Diana Byers’ New York Theatre Ballet.
What better way to open a Broadway evening than the zippy, colorful overture to Gypsy (1958) composed by Jule Styne, a work that encapsulates all the sass and sensuality of the American musical. Also on the program were two other overtures: Anything Goes (Cole Porter) (1934) and A Chorus Line (Marvin Hamlisch) (1975), both wonderful, but not as satisfying as Styne’s brilliant fireworks.
Following Gypsy with the Essential Voices USA chorus (Judith Clurman, music director and conductor) singing a full-throated arrangement by Robert Russell Bennett)of the title number from the trend-setting Oklahoma! (1943) was inspired programming. The intricate harmonies were deliciously rendered, evidence of Richard Rodgers’ genius.
The brilliance of the Golden Age of musicals—the forties and fifties—were also represented. From Leonard Bernstein, the hip-pumping, richly orchestrated “Mambo” from West Side Story and “Tonight” (lyrics, Stephen Sondheim) (1957) were given luscious amplitude by the Essential Voices USA. From Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner came the bagpipe imbued overture to Brigadoon (1947).
The New York Theatre Ballet performed the lovely, all-female, “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from that musical, a sweet look at pre-wedding preparations in the ancient village of Brigadoon. That troupe began with two excerpts from de Mille’s groundbreaking “Dream Ballet” from Oklahoma! and her “Hornpipe” from another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Carousel (1945), its fishermen bouncing about while on the hunt for female companionship.
Watching these de Mille excerpts reminded me of the treasure trove of gestures combined with ballet steps that filled her trend-setting ballets. So influential was her work, it was decades before “dream ballets” were considered old fashioned.
Diane Byer’s dancers, limited by the narrow strip of stage allowed them and the lack of theatrical lighting, did beautiful work communicating de Mille’s intentions.
From John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago (still running!) came a suite of their playfully dark songs featuring a young award-winning trumpeter Maggie Wakefield making the most of the “wah-wah” opening notes of “All That Jazz.”
The contemporary theater was represented by two excerpts from Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens’ Ragtime: the Joplin-esque “Prologue” and a choral version of the inspirational “Make Them Hear You.”
Even more recent, in fact currently running and selling out on Broadway, was Dear Evan Hansen (Benj Pasek & Justin Paul)from which the Essentials sang the bittersweet “You Will Be Found.”
For me, the emotional high point was the rich arrangement by Jason Robert Brown, a brilliant show composer in his own right, of “Sunday” from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, its intricate harmonies bringing out the poetry of the lyrics.
This program did Reineke and his musicians proud, brilliantly balancing the orchestral, choral and balletic aspects of the material. Carnegie Hall, home to all things classical, became a living, loving museum of the American musical theater.
The New York Pops (November 16, 2018)
Carnegie Hall, 154 West 57th Street, in Manhattan
Running time: two hours including one intermission