The celebrated New York Pops Orchestra rings in the fall season with a collection of songs performed by two of Broadway’s most celebrated artists, Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara. The orchestra opened the night with a rousing medley of songs, zesty strings, brassy trumpets and golden trombones filling the ears, as director/conductor Steven Reineke and his baton danced upon the podium.
Foster and O’Hara took to the famous stage, resplendent in attire that suited them best (with several fantastic changes throughout the night). Both spared an evening away from their packed
schedules to come together for this evening, which was inspired by the historical concert duo Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett. O’Hara and Foster admitted that they might be pigeon-holed as following in the footsteps of Julie/Carol respectively based on their strongest assets, but they were determined to step out of their vocal and comedic comfort zones to stand out on their own.
The opening numbers, a delightful “Real Live Girl” (Little Me), and playful renditions of “You and Me” (Victor/Victoria) and “Great Adventure” (Kimberly Akimbo), were peppered with numerous anecdotes, including when they jokingly sparred about how many awards and accolades they’d received and how they missing each others’ many performances while they were busy doing their own (they later privately admitted they’d seen every one).
The audience was treated to reprises of songs the two have previously sung, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair” (South Pacific) and “Forget About the Boy” (Thoroughly Modern Millie). O’Hara tried out her comedic shoes with Sondheim’s “What More Do I Need?” (Saturday Night), a song choice that most would have expected from Foster, but O’Hara wowed all with her gloriously rich, full-voiced follow up “So in Love” (Kiss Me, Kate) which she dedicated to beloved and and gone too soon sopranos Rebecca Luker and Marin Mazzie.
The two came together for “Answer Me” (The Band’s Visit), perfectly realizing David Yazbek’s uniquely adjacent harmonies. Foster’s whimsical style won the audience over with Cahn’s “I Like to Lead When I Dance”, joined in diverting step by O’Hara for brief segues into “I Won’t Dance” (Three Sisters) and “Shall We Dance?” (The King and I).
The pair provided much appreciated humor throughout the evening, especially when they donned Macaroni Grill aprons for “How to Get to Carnegie Hall?” (Dan Lipton / David Rossmer) and in sheepskin chaps (an homage to those worn by Andrews/Burnett in their 1962 show) for Act II’s opening “Big D” (The Most Happy Fella), not before ending Act I with a warm and thrilling rendition of Adam Guettel’s otherwise technically icy “Fable” (The Light in the Piazza).
O’Hara’s legit singing voice soared dramatically once again in Jason Robert Brown’s “To Build a Home” (The Bridges of Madison County), before she and Foster both broke away from their Broadway molds with a fun, fun, fun “Mega-Medley”, a full nine minutes of ’90s hits, joined by Reineke for an hysterical pass through “Vogue” and “I’m Too Sexy”.
Foster took center with “A Case of You” (Joni Mitchell), a safe but simple and sweet rendition, then proceeded to tear the house down with “Meantime” (Allen/Stillman), a song first sung by Burnett the 1962 with Andrews.
The duo rounded out the evening with a wistful and plaintive “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler/Phyllis Molinary), once again showing off the gorgeous blend of their voices and their expert harmonization, followed by Burnett’s famous TV show ending “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together”. Both singers served up an encore sitting on the edge of the stage, a guitar-strummed rendition of “Till There Was You” (The Music Man), before rolling themselves humorously up off the floor for their standing ovation.
No one dared to dream that Burnett and Andrews themselves would have been able to make an appearance at this sparkling event, but we were treated to the next best thing–a dialog between Burnett and Andrews recorded just for this concert, with conversation directed at O’Hara and Foster and timed gaps for them to respond. It was delightful!
Foster and O’Hara confessed they’d had so little time to rehearse for the show, yet they never missed a cue of Dick Scanlan’s clever writing or a step of Eric Sciotto’s succinct and winning choreography. Although no earlobes were tugged at the end of the show, Foster did suggest to O’Hara, “We should do it again,” which had the audience cheering. Andrews and Burnett appeared in three specials together during their careers, with “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall” (1962), “Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center” (1971) and “Julie and Carol: Together Again” (1989), and the very idea that O’Hara and Foster might establish a similar collaboration is simply thrilling.
It should not go unmentioned that as with every New York Pops performance, Reineke introduced the students from several high schools which were invited to attend the show, thanks to the efforts of the orchestra’s PopsED program. As amazing as the music that kids are listening to today is, it is equally important that they be exposed to the orchestral/vocal genre provided at performances like these. What an amazing night!
One Night Only: An Evening with Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara (November 17, 2023)
New York Pops Orchestra
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, 881 7th Ave, in Manhattan
For more information about future shows, visit https://newyorkpops.org/