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Review: It’s a ‘Starry’ Night at the New York Pops Gala

By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, May 3, 2017

Growing up in North Carolina, far away from the bright lights of Broadway, I’m always a bit starstruck when I have the opportunity to see these highly talented actors and actresses perform. So that’s exactly how I felt attending the recent New York Pop’s 34th Birthday Gala, honoring Broadway’s singing actress, Kelli O’Hara, director extraordinaire, Bartlett Sher, and Karen van Bergen,. The evening also featured a veritable who’s who guest list of performers, making for a very festive night.

Jason Robert Brown (composer of Bridges of Madison County, Honeymoon in Vegas, and The Last Five Years, among others) kicked off the gala by jumping into his score of Bridges of Madison County accompanied by the Pops. Robert Brown was physically into the performance, with his hands racing up and down the piano. When it was over, he quickly walked off stage, giving the audience only a few seconds to thank him for his beautiful composition before he was followed by other Broadway luminary.

With recent performances in Something Rotten and Hamilton, Brian D’Arcy James’s star continues to rise, and after a near perfect performance of the Marvin Hamlisch song “At the Fountain” from Sweet Smell of Success, it was clear why. His emotion and tone were perfectly matched with the instruments from the Pops. This was just one of the many standout performances of the night.

Next up was the hilarious duo of Matthew Broderick and Chris Sullivan, who starred alongside O’Hara in Nice Work If You Can Get It. The two had no problem jumping back into their characters and performing a hilarious rendition of “Blah, Blah, Blah.” With their patter and banter being so natural, it was hard to tell if they were acting or just being themselves as they started the number, but their winning talent shone through in their mannerisms and their comfort performing together.

Adam Kantor is another Broadway star making a name for himself in shows like The Last Five Years and Fiddler on the Roof. Taking a leaf from Fiddler’s book, Kantor performed his rendition of “Miracle of Miracles” in a way I had never heard before. Giving it an almost pop spin. I was amazed to hear it in this “new” way, and his voice was flawless.

Transitioning from classic Broadway to opera, Metropolitan Opera star Isabel Leonard lended her voice to the concert by performing the aria “Una voce pica fa” from Il barbiere de Siviglia. Leonard received quite the thunderous ovation, making it a hard act to follow.

Besides honoring Bartlett Sher and Kelli O’Hara, the concert also honored the New York Pops Kids On Stage program which teaches young performers the ins and outs of professional theater and performing techniques. The group of young performers gave the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s “Patterns With Direction,” as well as singing in a medley of songs from South Pacific alongside stage veterans Danny Burstein, Ashley Park and Paulo Szot. For their first time on stage, their voices sounded magnificent.

Ms. O’Hara’s co-star from the Broadway production of Bridges of Madison County, Steven Pasquale, gave a touching rendition of a song from the show, “It All Fades Away,” accompanied by composer Jason Robert Brown. Pasquale, last seen in the Off-Broadway production of The Robber Bridegroom, made it clear with his powerhouse voice that he belongs in this upper echelon of Broadway performers.

Kelli O’Hara received rave reviews for her portrayal of Anna in last season’s The King and I, directed by Bartlett Sher. When Ms. O’Hara left the production, fellow Broadway leading lady Marin Mazzie took over, and honored her with a song from the show, “Hello, Young Lovers.” Afterwards, Mazzie was joined by Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker for the classic song, “Make Someone Happy,” with their voices complementing each other perfectly.

Ruthie Ann Miles, Tony Award-winner for her performance in The King and I brought a stirring rendition of “Something Wonderful.” Her voice was clear, sharp, and emotional. Even out of context, the song drew an impassioned response from the audience.

Closing the evening’s festivities, Kelli O’Hara took the stage to sing “Fable” from The Light In the Piazza, one of the first collaborations with Sher, and their professional relationship continuing for well over a decade. Her performance showed her power as both a singer and a performer, as well as her ability to touch an audience.  It was a beautiful evening of music and song, and a fitting tribute for these artists who have given so much to this art form for so many years.

Full cast of New York Pops Gala; photo: Richard Termine.

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New York Pops 34th Birthday Gala presented at Carnegie Hall on May 1, 2017. Steven Reineke, Music Director and Conductor. Honorees: Kelli O’Hara, Bartlett Sher, and Karen van Bergen. Guest Artists: Matthew Broderick, Jason Robert Brown, Danny Burstein, Brian d’Arcy James, Adam Kantor, Judy Kuhn, Rebecca Luker, Marin Mazzie, Ruthie Ann Miles, Steven Pasquale, Chris Sullivan, and Paulo Szot. The New York Pops Kids On Stage Students; The Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, Cynthia Thole: Director and Choreographer; Christine Riley, Music Director.

Cover: Kelli O’Hara and Steven Reineke conducting the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall; photo: Richard Termine.


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