New York Festival of Song Gala Honoring Stephen Sondheim

April 19, 2017

in Concerts


Composer, lyricist and honoree: Stephen Sondheim

Pianist and host: Steven Blier

New York Festival of Song
Artistic Directors Steven Blier and Michael Barrett
Gala event chairs: Hal Prince and Jamie Bernstein
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 19, 2017, 7pm

With vocalists Pamela Myers, Ron Raines, Greer Grimsley, Luretta Bybee, Meredith Lustig, Theo Hoffman

Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim

Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim
at the NYFOS Gala
Photo: © 2017 Charles Munitz, Boston Arts Diary

A wonderful array of Sondheim songs played and sung expertly, and introduced with brilliance, warmth and wit by pianist and artistic director Steven Blier.

As part of their annual spring gala, New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), now celebrating its twenty-ninth anniversary, presented a wonderful concert of works by Stephen Sondheim who was honored, and present, at the event.

Hal Prince, noted producer and director of many of Sondheim’s works, along with narrator, writer and broadcaster Jamie Bernstein, daughter of Leonard Bernstein, served as Gala event chairs.

Steven Blier, pianist and artistic director of NYFOS presided from the keyboard, expertly accounting for the acompaniments to the array of vocalists and providing intelligent, informative and deeply felt introductions to the selections.

The selections were wide-ranging and the array of singers was varied and appealing.

Theo Hoffman and Meredith Lustig

Theo Hoffman and Meredith Lustig
Photo: Karli Cadel
Courtesy of New York Festival of Song

Two young NYFOS Emerging Artist alums, Theo Hoffman and Meredith Lustig, began the evening with a selection from Into The Woods (1987), their soprano and baritone lines interweaving beautifully. The combined richness of their voices and their equally artful phrasing served as a model for the exquisite series of numbers which followed.

Blier introduced the following song with a general tribute to Sondheim.

As part of his delightful commentary interspersed throughout the evening, Blier observed that there are many songs I get tired of, but Sondheim’s songs never get old noting as well that I find myself continually cracking up at the wit embodied in them.

With deftness, Blier gave an account of the intoxicatingly passionate song Take Me To The World which Sondheim wrote for the 1966 television musical Evening Primrose about a department store in which the mannequins come to life at night. Again, Lustig, supported by Hoffman, sang with reverberant charm, poignantly and beautifully.

Ron Raines and Pamela Myers

Ron Raines and Pamela Myers
Photo: Karli Cadel
Courtesy of New York Festival of Song

Pamela Myers, who originated the role of Marta in Company (1970) on Broadway forty-seven years ago, sang Another Hundred People with verve and gusto, offering in energy and pizzazz a great embellishment to a voice which expresses its dominant charms through such comically theatrical emphasis and phrasing.

With wryness, Blier reflected retroactively that some of the music in Another Hundred People reminded him of Philip Glass’ music, but that Sondheim’s music, for him, evoked minimalist influences without itself being minimalist, clearly demonstrating an appreciation for Sondheim’s musical breadth as well as his capacity to keep his music interesting.

Ron Raines, nominated for a Tony in the 2011 revival of Follies, joined Myers for You Must Meet My Wife, a poignant and funny duet from A Little Night Music (1973). Raines resonantly and wistfully communicated the plight of Frederick, the superannuated husband who is extolling the virtues of his very young wife who won’t sleep with him, to Desiree, his old flame, sung and played hilariously by Myers.

Greer Grimsley and Luretta Bybee

Greer Grimsley and Luretta Bybee
Photo: Karli Cadel
Courtesy of New York Festival of Song

Five songs from Sweeney Todd (1979) rounded out the rest of the program, with opera singers Greer Grimsley, a fabulous baritone, and his wife Luretta Bybee, a lovely mezzo-soprano, known for their embodiments of the roles, filling in as the murderous Sweeney Todd and his inspiration and accomplice, Mrs. Lovett.

Throughout, Blier offered delightful and detailed accounts of the intricacies of plot and character in the bleakly humorous and poignant libretto, which has grown to be recognized as one of the hallmarks of contemporary operatic musical theater.

Ron Raines joined Grimsby as Sweeney’s nemesis, Judge Turpin, to sing the wonderfully odd pairing in the duet Pretty Women. The great frolic A Little Priest, offered with delightful abandon by Bybee’s Mrs. Lovett, followed.

Hoffman re-entered to sing, deeply and resonantly, Not While I’m Around, the ironically poignant song from Sweeney Todd that the orphaned character Tobias sings to Mrs. Lovett.

After a number of other Sweeney Todd tunes, Lustig returned to do The Girls of Summer from Marry Me A Little (1980) with richly pliant, slithering tones.

A song from the more recent Road Show (2008), about an artistic philanthropist, provided the sweet melodic appreciation for the Gala attendee donors.

I’m Just a Broadway Baby from Follies (1971), sung by Myers with choral backup by the array of singers, provided the lively finale.

The evening's vocalists with Steven Blier at the piano

The evening’s vocalists
with Steven Blier at the piano
Photo: Karli Cadel
Courtesy of New York Festival of Song

The combined level of singing and theatricality, NYFOS’ wonderful stock in trade, was not to be beat. And Blier, with the magically combined talents of artist, pianist, intellectual, wordsmith and gifted raconteur, fused the offerings of the evening into a delightful and moving tribute to one of the great composer-lyricists of the age.

– BADMan

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