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Juilliard Vocal Arts and New York Festival of Song Present "Great American Songwriting Teams" at Peter Jay Sharp Theater
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Juilliard Vocal Arts and New York Festival of Song Present "Great American Songwriting Teams" at Peter Jay Sharp Theater

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Juilliard Vocal Arts
Brian Zeger, Artistic Director
New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director

Great American Songwriting Teams

Steven Blier (Piano and Arrangements)
Tiffany Townsend, Soprano
Kelsey Lauritano and Hannah McDermott, Mezzo-Sopranos
James Edgar Knight, Alexander McKissick, Aaron Mor, Tenors
Theo Hoffman, Baritone
Mary Birnbaum, Stage Director

At the Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Press: Gloria Gottschalk for Juilliard
Press: Aleba Gartner for NYFOS

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 14, 2015

Steven Blier, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of New York Festival of Song, once again presented a hugely entertaining and educational program, with his Juilliard vocal students, called “Great American Songwriting Teams”. To help prepare the vocalists, four esteemed artists assisted: Danny Burstein (actor/dancer/singer - guest teacher), Adam Cates (choreographer), Leann Osterkamp (musical assistant, duo-pianist), and Mary Testa (actor/dancer/singer – guest teacher). Tonight’s rising stars in the New York vocal arts community were Tiffany Townsend, soprano, Kelsey Lauritano and Hannah McDermott, mezzo-sopranos, James Edgar Knight, Alexander McKissick, and Aaron Mor, tenors, and Theo Hoffman, baritone. As always, Mr. Blier was on piano and was teacher-raconteur for the interludes, making each song and composer vibrant and intriguing. Mary Birnbaum was stage director.

Throughout the evening, comedic gestures and clever choreography, with even a few props here and there, ensued, in solos, duos, just the men, just the women, and full ensemble. DeSylva, Brown, & Henderson’s “Lucky Day” opened with gorgeous harmonies, followed by Kalmar & Ruby’s “The Sheik of Avenue B”, sung by Mr. Mor, with a campy Yiddish accent. Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind” was exquisitely sung by Ms. Lauritano, with poignant trills in retro, Hollywood songbird style. Ms. McDermott’s impressive tones were expanded with perky clarity, in the Gershwin brothers’ “I Was Doing Alright”, followed by Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Lauritano in the Gershwins’ “Luckiest Man in the World”, with Mr. Hoffman in vaudevillian flair and Ms. Lauritano in sassy flirtation. Dietz and Schwartz’ “Blue Grass” was wonderfully belted out by soprano, Ms. Townsend, in earthy, jazzy, fill-the-hall volume. She had humor, as well.

Mr. McKissick sang the Dietz/Schwartz “You and the Night and the Music” in Spanish and English, something new, as I’ve heard this tune in Portuguese, but never Spanish. Mr. McKissick walked out like a bullfighter, with proud passion. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “No Other Love”, sung by Ms. Townsend and Mr. Knight, was eloquent and operatic. Two Comden & Green tunes began with Mr. Knight singing “Captain Hook’s Waltz”, with a hook and silk, orange jacket, accompanied by the ensemble in some choreography. In fact, in many of the tunes, one artist would sing, with the ensemble as gestural backdrop. The final piece, before intermission, was the Comden/Green “Wrong Note Rag”, with the full ensemble in scat vocals and ragtime dance.

After intermission, the full ensemble opened with Lerner & Lowe’s “Ascot Gavotte”, a snazzy tune reminiscent of “My Fair Lady”, sung with a strict British accent, with the cast smoking imaginary cigarettes in holders. “Real Live Girl”, by Coleman & Leigh, was next, sung by Mr. Knight, about a nervous first date, followed by Bock & Harnick’s “Little Tin Box”, performed by the male ensemble. The “savings” and “rewards” from the tin box take on burlesquean humor, with dance that matches. Maltby & Shire’s “We Can Talk to Each Other”, sung by Mr. Mor and Ms. McDermott, is an adorable and winning song, with banter and repartee back and forth, from a couple that discovers their rapport. The Maltby/Shire “I Want It All”, sung by the female ensemble, has the three women crooning about string bikinis and pedicures, with many melodic refrains.

Bolcom & Weinstein are represented with three songs; Mr. Hoffman sang “Blue”, influenced by third eye teachings and meditations. Many notes were sung in Middle Eastern, searing, tones. The Bolcom/Weinstein “My Father the Gangster”, from “Casino Paradise”, was wittily performed by Ms. Lauritano, with faux longing and loneliness. “The Establishment Route”, also from “Casino Paradise”, was boastfully sung by Mr. McKissick, about a well-fed man with a pin-stripe suit and checkered vest. Kander and Ebb’s “Arthur in the Afternoon” was a great, late-set song, filled with innuendo and coyness, sung by Ms. McDermott, whose dynamic daydreaming praises Arthur’s “matinee” prowess. The final Songwriting Team in the program was Lieber & Stoller. Their “I Ain’t Here” was a sultry New Orleans number for Ms. Townsend, sung with sass, minus the cabaret candles. The Lieber/Stoller “Love Potion No. 9” brought back the full ensemble, in many accents and affects. The encore number was the very vivacious, Bernstein/Comden/Green, “We’ll Catch Up Some Other Time”, from On the Town, performed with mellifluous ensemble harmonies. Kudos to all.

The Juilliard Vocal Ensemble and Steven Blier (on piano)
in "Great American Songwriting Teams"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

James Edgar Knight, Steven Blier (on piano), and Juilliard Vocal Ensemble
in "Great American Songwriting Teams"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Aaron Mor, Steven Blier (on piano), and Hannah McDermott
in "Great American Songwriting Teams"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Tiffany Townsend, Aaron Mor, and Kelsey Lauritano
in "Great American Songwriting Teams"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at