The New York Pops ended their 34th season in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall with two concerts, both of which were packed with gusto and glee. On Friday April 21st, music director and conductor Steven Reineke led the orchestra in night entitled, You’ve Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters. The program was a virtual jukebox of popular American songs that have become a ubiquitous part of our culture.
A Beatles medley, featuring the New York Pops, kicked off the evening, followed by Hamilton star, Christopher Jackson, who delivered smooth renditions of Al Green’s “Let Stay Together” and Donny Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Jessie Mueller, fresh from her pie-baking duties in Broadway’s Waitress, sang a faithful rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and a poignant version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Broadway and Television star Will Chase continued the night’s country theme with the Johnny Cash hit, “Ring of Fire.” Chase, who recently landed a recurring role in the Netflix series, Stranger Things, paid homage to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel with the evergreen favorite, “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
The secret weapon of the night was Adrienne Warren. The Tony nominated star presented silky and soulful covers of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” The remaining trio of performers joined her for the end of the first set with a rousing rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.”
The Pops tipped their hats to the late “King of Soul”, James Brown at the top of the second half with an instrumental medley of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. Mueller returned to perform the title song from the show that earned her a Tony Award, “Beautiful” by Carole King. She stayed onstage for the Joni Mitchell favorite, “Both Sides Now.” Two musical “A-listers” were represented next: Adele and Aretha Franklin. Warren performed the singers’ popular hits, “Hello” and “Think,” respectively.
Chase, whose voice naturally lends itself to rock, executed the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Fortunate Son”, and quickly shifted tone with John Lennon’s reflective number, “Imagine.” Jackson focused on change with his last two numbers: Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The joyous evening ended with the night’s cast singing King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”. For an encore, the Pops sent the sold-out audience groovin’ to the streets with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Once again, Reineke thrilled loyal subscribers and Broadway aficionados with his well-curated and thoughtful programming.
Days later, the New York Pops celebrated their 34th Birthday on Monday May 1st, with a Gala honoring Tony award winning performer, Kelli O’Hara and Tony award winning director, Bartlett Sher. The pair have worked together on several projects and were treated to an evening of all-star performances from their shows by numerous Broadway and opera personalities.
Composer Jason Robert Brown opened the concert, entitled “Something Wonderful” with the gorgeous suite from his Broadway show, The Bridges of Madison County. The instrumental number featured the Pops, with Brown on piano. Brian D’Arcy James, recently seen in Something Rotten!, hit a homerun with “At the Fountain” from one of O’Hara’s earliest Broadway shows, Sweet Smell of Success. Though the musical was not a darling of critics, it has gone on to achieve a cult following and offers a superb score. Matthew Broderick and Chris Sullivan, who co-starred with O’Hara in Nice Work if You Can Get It were on hand for a cheeky version of the Gershwin tune, “Blah, Blah, Blah”. Adam Kantor, star of Sher’s recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof sang the perennial favorite, “Miracle of Miracles”
Sher’s directorial experience has also extended to the world of opera. In 2006, he staged a new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Soprano Isabel Leonard, who starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s version, left the audience breathless with her seemingly effortless and flowing aria “Une voce poco fa” from that opera. Sher also directed the 2013 Nico Muhly opera Two Boys. Muhly offered a “gift” to Sher and the Pops orchestra in the form of a new work called, “Patterns with Direction.” The jarring, cacophonous composition sounded more like a black bear digesting lake trout, but it was heartwarming to know that 20 middle school instrumentalists made their Carnegie Hall debut beside such esteemed musicians with the piece. The middle-school instrumentalists chosen to play were part of the Pop’s celebrated Kids on Stage program.
Danny Burstein, Ashley Park, Paulo Szot, and the Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble flooded the stage for a crowd-pleasing medley from South Pacific. It featured “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair”, “There is Nothing Like a Dame”, and “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Next, Steven Pasquale,who played opposite O’Hara in The Bridges of Madison County sang what is arguably the show’s most beautiful number, “It All Fades Away.”
The King and I, which finally earned a Tony win for O’Hara, was represented with “Hello, Young Lovers,” performed by a ravishing and still marvelous-voiced Marin Mazzie. Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles followed with the sincere and rapturous number “Something Wonderful.”
Powerhouse leading ladies Mazzie, Judy Kuhn, and Rebecca Luker joined forces for the classic “Make Someone Happy”, written by Jule Styne. Finally, the night’s guests of honor, Kelli O’Hara, took center stage, lavishing praise on Sher and the evening’s performers before ending with “Fable” from The Light in The Piazza.
Karen van Bergen, CEO of Omnicom media and advocate for the arts was the evening’s corporate honoree. Reineke learned that it would soon be her birthday and invited the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to her.
Between the impeccably talented roster of Broadway stars, Kids on Stage, the Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, and the steadfast, always reliable New York Pops, the evening provided a thrilling 34th chapter in the history of this cherished institution.
Both concerts also honored the 25th anniversary of the PopsEd inititative, Kids in the Balcony. The phenomenal opportunity allows students from all five boroughs to see a performance free of charge.
Although another successful season of the New York Pops has come to an end, maestro Reineke and the Pops will return for the third consecutive year to the Forrest Hills Stadium on Thursday, June 8th. The special summer concert will feature cinematic scores from legendary film composer, John Williams.
For more information about the NY Pops and for future concert dates, click here.