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Broadway: Then and Now

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Rob Fisher
Photo by Adam Mills Elliott

You had a good run, Friday the 13th, but your bad luck had to run out sooner or later. With Rob Fisher and the New York Pops turning out to celebrate Broadway last night, it was all but a given everything would be coming up clover. So let's face it: You never really had a chance.

As long as we're speaking of good fortune, let's remember that it's not too surprising that where there's clover, there's an O'Hara. Kelli, in this case, the gorgeous, blonde, silken-voiced star-in-ascent who proved the chief good luck charm (of many) in Fisher's one-night-only concert at Carnegie Hall, Broadway: Then and Now.

One of the most gifted of today's musical-theatre crossover singers, those rare creatures who handle standards and firecracker-fresh compositions with the same passionately knowing flair, O'Hara is ideally suited to a place of honor in Fisher's world. Her Broadway credits range from the revivals of Follies and The Pajama Game to new roles in Sweet Smell of Success and The Light in the Piazza; Fisher, as longtime overseer of the venerable Encores! series, has just as many varied titles under his belt. Those lucky enough to catch both artists at the Philharmonic's My Fair Lady concert last month - he holding the baton, she reigning as a queenly Eliza Doolittle - already know that when they join forces, sparks fly.

Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Jimmy Ryan

Last night's charming outing was no exception, with O'Hara a radiant presence singing songs classic ("A Wonderful Guy," from Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific) and contemporary ("The Light in the Piazza," composed by Rodgers's grandson, Adam Guettel). Only devout followers of the current scene could likely place every selection - "Is It Too Late?" from Ricky Ian Gordon's 2003 My Life With Albertine was the most obscure, if the most laceratingly beautiful, entry. But the program, which also included symphonic renditions of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Bernstein's West Side Story succeeded in presenting the full spectrum of show music from 1925 to today.

From that earliest year came a rollicking rendition of the overture to Vincent Youmans's No, No, Nanette as reconsidered for the smash 1971 revival by the brilliant and brassy orchestrator Ralph Burns. Burns also got in his say in an undulating suite assembled from the Kander & Ebb Chicago, and in the show's opener, the Ziegfeld-resplendent overture from Jule Styne's Funny Girl. Another arranger didn't come off so well: Harry Connick Jr., with whom O'Hara costarred in last year's Pajama Game revival, rethought the Styne-Comden-Green "Make Someone Happy" and the Rodgers & Hammerstein "I Have Dreamed" by flattening those softly soaring songs a dimension or two.

But O'Hara even triumphed past such rare missteps to give them renditions of unflinching sensitivity that only further point up the complex, adult interpreter she's becoming. Even though her intense dramatic performances are perhaps her best known, she can still let down her hair with the best of them; the woman gave way to the girl for two songs she sang with her Sweet Smell costar Brian D'Arcy James, Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" and Rodgers & Hammerstein's "If I Loved You."

Those numbers are, in many ways, the Broadway musical in a nutshell: silly and serious, fast-paced and contemplative, sexy and romantic. All adjectives, it's worth noting, that O'Hara adopted with cunning credibility as the evening unfolded. Backed by the 82-piece Pops, which the invaluable living musical historian Fisher led almost perfectly throughout, O'Hara's every performance last night made you realize that, just like so many of the standards she sang, she's only getting better with time.

Broadway: Then and Now
Friday, April 13 at 8pm
The New York Pops
Rob Fisher, Conductor and Piano
Kelli O'Hara, Guest Artist
Carnegie Hall, 7th Avenue and 57th Street
STYNE Funny Girl Overture (arr. Ralph Burns)
RODGERS / HAMMERSTEIN "Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific
STYNE / COMDEN / GREEN "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi (arr. Harry Connick Jr.)
GORDON "Is It Too Late?" from My Life With Albertine
BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances (excerpt) from West Side Story
KANDER Chicago Suite (arr. Michael Gibson)
KERN Show Boat Overture (arr. Robert Russell Bennett)
GUETTEL "The Light in the Piazza" from The Light in the Piazza
RODGERS / HAMMERSTEIN "I Have Dreamed" from King and I (arr. Harry Connick Jr.)
SONDHEIM "What More Do I Need?" from Saturday Night
YOUMANS No, No, Nanette Overture (orch. Ralph Burns)

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