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Alan Menken
Credit: Richard Termine

The New York Pops 35th Birthday Gala, Part of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken sparkled for its one-night only, sold out performance at the famed Carnegie Hall.

The golden room positively shimmered as loyal patrons filled its seats; whether dressed in silk, wool, cotton or denim, the audience showed its unbridled enthusiasm as the evening progressed, cheering at every introduction.

Led by its charismatic conductor Steven Reineke, the orchestra began the evening with an exciting overture, brimming over into a huge finish. Lithe and able singers Kerry Butler (Mean Girls; Audrey in the Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors) and Corey Cott (Bandstand; Jack Kelly in the Broadway production of Disney’s Newsies) kicked off the evening, accelerating from zero to sixty in about five seconds and blowing the roof off with “Suddenly Seymour”.

Iconic Jodi Benson (original voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid) brought us back to the beginning with “Part of Your World”, unnecessarily calling upon child-like vocals in order to emulate a young Ariel; one longed to hear her bust out with a truly adult sound, but it was still a performance worthy of the show’s beginning.

Highlights of the evening included Patina Miller (Deloris Van Cartier in the original Broadway and London casts of Sister Act) singing “Fabulous, Baby!”, embodying the title of the song with her powerful, effortless vocals.  Judy Kuhn (singing voice of the title role in Disney’s film Pocahontas) sent bright, vibrant notes to the rafters with “Colors of the Wind”.

Susan Egan (Belle in the original cast of the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Meg in the film version of Disney’s Hercules) thrilled the audience with a gorgeous “Home”, and Adam Jacobs (title role in the original cast of the Broadway production of Disney’s Aladdin) sang an earnest and lovely “Proud of Your Boy.”

Four of the original Muses from Disney’s animated classic Hercules, Cheryl Freeman, Roz Ryan, Vaneese Thomas, and Lillias White battled for attention with “Zero to Hero”; the song, its best attribute being its title, could barely contain these amazing women, each deserving of their own number. Harvey Fierstein (book writer for the Broadway production of Disney’s Newsies) called upon his overly familiar shtick and croaked out a humorous “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

Roger Bart (title role in Disney’s film version of Hercules) sang a distracted “Go the Distance” mostly into the monitor, and Nick Cordero (Sonny in the Broadway production of A Bronx Tale) did his level best with the otherwise loungy “One of the Great Ones”.

The evening included “High Times, Hard Times” from Newsies, sung by powerhouse Ashley Brown (Belle in the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast); its inclusion of children from the Ronald McDonald House of New York brought a twinge to the heart. More young people stormed the stage, from the Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, for an awesome “Seize the Day”, showing more than enough talent to be in their own production of Newsies.

This glorious night ended with two unlisted encores:  surprise appearance by the legendary Angela Lansbury, singing the beloved title song from Beauty and the Beast, and the evening’s honoree himself, Alan Menken, who took to the ivories for Lansbury as well as to play a medley of his songs. The audience leapt to its feet at these delightful performances as well as for the grand finale of the entire cast singing “Be Our Guest”.

Since this one night event cannot be heard again, it is heartily recommended not to miss future performances of The New York Pops, an organization to be admired for its artistry and generous PopsEd educational outreach.

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