Review: The New York Pops Bridges the Generation Gap
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, April 24, 2017
As the older generation always says “I don’t understand what those kids are listening to these days.” I grew up in a household where I thought my parents’ music wasn’t only good, but probably better than the popular music of the day, so I’ve never really understood the huge gap between each generation’s musical tastes. But last Friday at Carnegie Hall, I saw multi-generational music lovers come together to hear the fantastic performance of The New York Pops, conducted by Steve Reineke, in You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters, featuring Broadway stars Will Chase, Christopher Jackson, Jessie Mueller and Adrienne Warren.
The initially-advertised program indicated that music by James Taylor and Carole King would be performed, but I was pleasantly surprised that the concert was actually much more varied. The first number was an instrumental compilation of Beatles songs, and it was fairly difficult to find an audience member who didn’t know the words to at least one song. Kicking off the night was Hamilton star Christopher Jackson. Jackson is known for his hip-hop skills thanks to Hamilton, but here we heard a completely different side of his repertoire, starting off with soulful renditions of “Let’s Stay Together” and “I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” After intermission, Jackson covered Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A’ Changin” which fit in perfectly with today’s current events and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Jackson said he used to play the first 10 seconds of the song “over and over and over again.” His second set showed off much more of his versatility and left the audience wishing he could keep going.
Jackson may not be known for singing the classics, but Jessie Mueller is—winning a Tony Award for her portrayal of Carole King in Broadway’s Beautiful. Mueller is one of the more soft-spoken Broadway starlettes even though her voice carries to the rafters anywhere she performs, and this was no exception. Gracing the stage in bare feet, she began her first set with Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” arranged specifically for Mueller by songwriter Sarah Bareilles (recently stepping into the leading role in her own musical Waitress on Broadway, taking over from Mueller). Mueller may not be known for singing country or classic rock, but her voice flowed effortlessly, and proved to the audience the reason for her loyal fan base. Her second set pleased the audience even more with her perfect cover of Carole King’s “Beautiful” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” With many female audience members singing along with Mueller, her connection with the audience was palpable, making her performance even more memorable.
Following close behind Mueller was actor Will Chase, who recently performed in Broadway’s Something Rotten. Chase’s first set was the one that stood out the most, with the inclusion of classics — Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Chase’s voice wasn’t quite as deep as Cash’s, but he managed to pull the number off quite well with some sing-along help from the audience. He also dedicated “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to his daughters, Daisy and Gracie, telling the audience that during his own times of trouble this song was one that helped him the most. His second performance included two more classics, John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Fogerty’s song was one with which I wasn’t familiar, but I loved Chase’s take on the rock song where his deep rock voice fit quite well. And in such heightened political times Lennon’s “Imagine” seemed to hit home more than ever for the majority of audience members, visibly resonating with them.
Rounding out the night’s performers was a fairly new face to Broadway, Adrienne Warren, who starred in last season’s musical hit Shuffle Along. Warren’s numbers included both classic songs and newer ones which made her sets stand out. Her first song, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was dedicated to her Dad, who happened to be in the audience and gave her a standing ovation. She told the audience that Taylor’s music were some of the first songs her father trained her to sing and that they still hold a special place in her heart. Going straight into Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” it seemed like a perfect choice for Warren’s flawless voice, allowing her to truly capture the emotion of the song. Her next set showed off even more of her well-rounded voice with Adele’s “Hello” and Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” While I have not always been a fan of Adele’s music, Warren let me hear the song in a completely new way, and as for Franklin’s number, Warren literally blew the roof of Carnegie Hall with her voice range. It was as if the Queen of Soul handpicked the song for her and she performed it in a way no one else could with her wide smile and moonwalks across the stage.
Though each of the performers have backgrounds in different genres of music, they harmonized well together on the group numbers. Prior to intermission the group performed an energized version of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” that left the audience laughing and singing along. The final number of the night showed off even more of each performer’s personality with the classic Motown hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a personal favorite. With solos by each performer it was amazing to hear how each one blended so perfectly with each other, but then were able to take the stage when singing alone.
The New York Pops is a wonderful institution and it’s always a special occasion when they feature such an array of talented performers from Broadway. Be sure to catch their upcoming performances at Carnegie Hall and this summer at the Forest Hills Stadium. For more information about upcoming events click here.
The New York Pops in concert: You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters at Carnegie Hall on April 21, 2017. Steven Reineke, conductor. Guest soloists: Will Chase, Christopher Jackson, Jessie Mueller, and Adrienne Warren.
Cover: Christopher Jackson, Jessie Mueller, Will Chase and Adrienne Warren with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall; photo: Richard Termine.