The New York Pops Celebrates 21st CENTURY BROADWAY
Broadway World

The New York Pops has always had a healthy relationship with Broadway performers, and this season is no exception. Under the talented and guiding hand of music director and conductor Steven Reineke, this exceptional orchestra gives Broadway songs a majesty and heft that most Broadway orchestra pits cannot provide. This is especially important with the songs chosen for their season opener, 21st-Century Broadway, which spotlights musicals premiering in the last 23 years. Contemporary Broadway composers are certainly not writing and orchestrating their shows the way Rodgers and Hammerstein did with shows like Carousel and Oklahoma.

So, it was a joy to hear songs by young composers like Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, Sara Bareilles, Lin-Manuel Miranda and more given the full New York Pops treatment. Add to that a quartet of younger Broadway performers with impressive résumés and the result was an enjoyable trip down the rich library that is the recent Broadway seasons.

After a spirited and humorous interpretation of Mel Brooks’ The Producers overture, the luminous (and emotionally overwhelmed) Hailey Kilgore, making her Carnegie Hall debut, began with “All That Matters” from Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy's Finding Neverland and "Fabulous, Baby!" from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's Sister Act. Kilgore made her debut as the strong-willed Ti Moune in the revival of “Once on This Island,” and here this Tony-nominated actress shows off her range, but saves her showstopper for her last song of the evening with an uplifting and inspirational “I’m Here” from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray's The Color Purple. I haven’t seen Fantasia’s version in the film version to be released this Christmas, but I can’t believe it will be as stirring as Kilgore’s, which got the only in-show standing ovation from the appreciative Carnegie Hall crowd.

Kilgore shows off her romantic side in a duet with Javier Muñoz singing “When the Sun Goes Down” from In the Heights. Muñoz is most known for his long run as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton after Lin-Manuel Miranda left the production. Muñoz told an amusing story about how he still gloats to Lin-Manuel about getting to perform for Jay-Z and Beyonce before launching into a dramatic “Hurricane” from the show. But the talented actor (who most recently was in the out-of-town production of Elton John’s version of The Devil Wears Prada) brought the feels for one of only two Off-Broadway shows represented in the evening, the LGBTQ+ anthem, “Love Who You Love” from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s A Man of No Importance. It was obvious this was not only important to Muñoz but also to conductor Reineke. Come on, Broadway producers, it’s time for more LGBTQ+ love stories on the Great White Way.

For Hamilton’s second song of the evening, it was Muñoz’s singing partner Derek Klena who got emotional. New dad Klena related to themes of "Dear Theodosia," which is sung in the show by Hamilton and Aaron Burr to their respective newly born children. The energetic Klena, who got his first Tony nomination for Jagged Little Pill, got to sing songs from his ever-growing Broadway résumé including Jagged’s “Perfect” and Anastasia’s “My Petersburg,” where he originated the role of Dmitry. He also sang “Goodbye” from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s Catch Me if You Can, which, in an amusing anecdote, Klena told us how a homemade version of this song led to him corresponding with and auditioning for Shaiman to understudy the lead role. It’s a crazy story.

Klena got to duet with the final performer of the evening, Ali Stroker, for Sara Bareilles’ beautiful "You Matter to Me" from Waitress. Stroker, who won the Tony for the recent revival of Oklahoma, was a joy throughout the evening. She got to show off her comic chops as two different, frustrated actresses in “A Summer in Ohio” from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (the other Off-Broadway musical) and, especially, “Diva’s Lament” from Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s Spamalot, which is getting a revival (already!) this season. Stroker also sang a duet with Hailey Kilgore for probably the most popular (excuse the pun) and longest running new show of the 21st century, Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, with their heartfelt rendition of “For Good.”

Stroker got the prime spot, ending the first act with a rousing version of “Waving Through the Window” from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen, the only show besides Hamilton to make a double appearance. The second Evan song, the ultimate “I Want” teenage song, "You Will Be Found," ended the evening with our quartet of stars being joined by actual teenagers from the New York Pop-supported Susan E. Wagner High School Chorus in Staten Island. You could feel the encouragement from the theater vets for the teens who were all having a ball on the most important musical stage in the world.

These singers: William Alexander, Kaitlin Attanasio, Fatu Kiadii, Jesse Lefurge, Sand Morales, Amanda O’Leary, Jordon Oliver Bueno and Sean Penias, under the direction of Keith Waage, not only represented the spectrum and colors of the New York City rainbow, but also the future of Broadway itself. Broadway musicals have always been a beacon and a refuge for the misfits of the younger generation, and the audience certainly believed them when they sang:

Even when the dark comes crashing through,

When you need a friend to carry you,

And when you’re broken on the ground,

You will be found.

The New York Pops has never sounded so rich and glorious, and that has to be due to the orchestrators of all these songs, which deserves their own mention here: Fred Barton, Doug Besterman, William David Brohn, Ted Firth, Joseph Joubert, Michael Markowski, Michael Morris, Adam Podd, Sam Shoup, Michael Starobin, Danny Troob, Torrie Zito and Steven Reineke himself. Special mention has to go to Greg Anthony Rassen who orchestrated Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s beautiful "The Song of Purple Summer" from Spring Awakening.


Cary Wong, Broadway World
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