The New York Pops’ 34th Birthday Gala “Something Wonderful”
By: Iris Wiener
Those of us who frequent Broadway musicals easily forget how epically different a piece of music can be when performed in larger formats. It’s truly “Something Wonderful” when The New York Pops take to the stage, as was demonstrated on May 1st with their 34th Birthday Gala, honoring Tony winners Kelli O’Hara and Bartlett Sher, and Karen van Bergen, the CEO of Omnicom Public Relations Group. The concert, which was conducted and directed by Steven Reineke, celebrated the decade long partnership between O’Hara and Sher, as well as individual triumphs that have won them several accolades.
The evening began with a breathtaking orchestral medley from The Bridges of Madison County– one of O’Hara’s starring vehicles- with Jason Robert Brown on piano. Brian D’Arcy James, who was nominated for the first of three Tony Awards for his work in Sweet Smell of Success (opposite O’Hara), belted “At the Fountain,” reflecting the sentiment of the evening with the words “Sometimes the perfect feeling feels like a work of art.”
O’Hara was also celebrated with her co-stars from Nice Work if You Can Get It, Matthew Broderick and Chris Sullivan, who joked around with one another and the audience. “I finally made it, huh?” said Broderick, looking around the historical theatre. They performed a delightful rendition of “Blah Blah Blah” during which Broderick opined, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Just be friends with Kelli!”
Sher and O’Hara have collaborated on four musicals, all of which were highlighted in creative, memorable fashions. Ashley Park represented South Pacific, singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” with The Camp Broadway Kids Ensemble, an incredibly talented group of teenagers who were decked out in sailor hats and period outfits. Danny Burstein continued the throwback to the Tony-winning musical with “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” also craftily directed to include the Kids Ensemble. Paulo Szot brought much of the audience to their feet as he reminded it of his rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.” Steven Pasquale belted louder and more eloquently than he ever has on Broadway when he performed “It All Fades Away,” a tearjerker from The Bridges of Madison County. With Brown once again on piano, Pasquale began acapella, eventually joined by a massive crescendo from the Pops. For those in the audience who only experienced O’Hara as Anna in The King and I, this celebration was an extra special treat; the last actress to perform the role in the revival, Marin Mazzie, celebrated the original star and her director with “Hello, Young Lovers.” The show’s other Tony-winner, Ruthie Ann Miles, once again proved why she deserved her award with her powerful version of “Something Wonderful.” The Light in the Piazza was represented as well, by none other than O’Hara herself. In a stunning black gown, she delivered “Fable,” telling her audience that even if she wasn’t being honored that evening, she’d be performing for Sher because he has given her so much.
Sher’s other gargantuan musicals were also brought to life in new ways; Adam Cantor, who made his Carnegie Hall debut, said that there was only one song he could sing that would accurately describe how he was feeling: “Miracle of Miracles.” Sher made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2006 with The Barber of Seville, an accomplishment that was celebrated with opera star Isabelle Leonard, when she displayed her astonishing high notes in “Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia.
According to Reineke, three of O’Hara’s idols are Judy Kuhn, Rebecca Luker and Marin Mazzie, and all three provided vocals in a magnificent rendition of “Make Someone Happy.” Their voices swam with energy and sincerity, a one-of-a-kind tribute to a one-of-a-kind performer. Their collaboration was only complemented by the finale, in which all of the performers and honorees were joined on stage and in the aisles by the Kids Ensemble for “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” an apt ending for a night serving as a reminder that O’Hara and Sher’s nice work has only just begun.
Follow Iris Wiener on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at www.IrisWiener.com.
Photography: Maryann Lopinto