March undoubtedly roared into the year, thanks largely in part to the New York Pops. This month, the much-lauded orchestra finally staged two concerts which were previously halted by…well, at this point…must we elaborate?
On Friday, March 4th, conductor Steven Reineke welcomed Emmy, Tony, and SAG award nominee Norm Lewis to the Pops home, Carnegie Hall. The night was electric with one great Broadway hit after another. Fans of eighties and nineties musicals were especially in showtune Shangri-La as Lewis nailed songs from works which have comprised his career. “Music of the Night?” Check. (Lewis made history as the first black man to play the titular role on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera.) “Stars” and “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables? Perfection. Was Alan Menken represented? Absolutely. Lewis, who played King Triton in The Little Mermaid, performed “The World Above” , followed by an unconventional and cheeky cover of “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, both from that Broadway musical. Another precious, humorous moment was found between Lewis and conductor Reineke. The two squared off in Les Miserables’ “Confrontation.”
Reineke was sure to also feature his top-shelf musicians with instrumental offerings from The Who’s Tommy, Sweeney Todd, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Breaking from the Broadway mold, Lewis gave a stirring rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic, “What’s Going On”, a song with lasting permanence and gravitas.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Lewis will lead the cast of the Pulitzer Prize winning tour of A Soldier’s Play in a 20-week tour through North America. With such vocal ferocity and magnetism, let’s hope the New York Pops brings him back after his on-stage military stint.
Pops subscribers were treated to some swinging, retro standards this past Wednesday night, March 16th– again at Carnegie Hall, for “Get Happy: That Nelson Riddle Sound.” Riddle was the preeminent arranger for such artists as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and recording jazz artist Tony DeSare brought to life lush renditions of “Strike Up The Band”, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, “All the Things You Are”, “The Lady is a Tramp”, “I’ve Got the World on a String”, and the Dean Martin hit, “Ain’t That A Kick in the Head.”
Guest conductor Christopher Riddle, Nelson’s son, opened Act 2 with his late father’s composition, “Theme from Route 66”, and one of the best known Nelson Riddle arrangements, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” originally popularized by Frank Sinatra. Christopher said that Sinatra was so thrilled with the version, that he invited Nelson and his wife to his house in Palm Springs for the weekend. Upon returning, Christopher asked his dad how the trip went. “Awful,” his father replied. “Frank played my arrangement 24 hours a day. I was so sick of it by the end! ”
Jenkins and DeSare also joined forces for two duets: “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, and “Zing! When the Strings of my Heart.”
It’s difficult to describe the impact Riddle left in the music world. His arrangements defined an era and any opportunity to hear them again—particularly from Reineke, his talented guest stars, and his Pops Orchestra- is nothing short of enthralling.
That thrill continues on Monday April 25th, when the Pops honors Kristen & Bobby Lopez for their 39th Birthday Gala. Stars include Santino Fontana, Kristen Bell, Caissie Levy, Mykal Kilgore, and many many more.
For information on The New York Pops, visit newyorkpops.org