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New York Festival of Song Presents a Cabaret of "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel" at Merkin Hall
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New York Festival of Song Presents a Cabaret of "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel" at Merkin Hall

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner: Arts and Education

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Kaufman Music Center
New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director, Co-Founder
Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director, Co-Founder

Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel

Lauren Worsham, Soprano
Mary Testa, Mezzo-soprano
Hal Cazalet, Tenor
John Brancy, Baritone

Steven Blier, Piano / Arranger

At Merkin Concert Hall

Press: Aleba Gartner:

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 3, 2016

It was once again a delightful evening of lush, lively songs at Merkin Hall, in NYFOS’ unique program called “Rodgers, Rodgers, and Guettel”. The Broadway and Off-Broadway repertoire of Richard Rodgers, his daughter, Mary Rodgers, and her son, Adam Guettel (who was in the audience) included songs ranging from Richard Rodgers’ 1926 Peggy-Ann, to Mary Rodgers’ 1959 Once Upon a Mattress, to Adam Guettel’s newest show, his 2015 Millions, now in production. As always, Steven Blier, the curator, educator, raconteur, pianist, and arranger of this show was impassioned and persuasive in drawing his NYFOS fans into the interlocking musical segments and songs. Mr. Blier brought along four seasoned and superior actor-singers, Lauren Worsham, soprano, Mary Testa, mezzo-soprano, Hal Cazalet, tenor, and John Brancy, baritone, who sang in solo, duo, trio, quartet fashion throughout the evening. Both Ms. Testa (Guys and Doll’s) and Ms. Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide…) have been favorably reviewed on Broadway on these pages. There was enormous chemistry, charisma, and energy in each and every number, and the audience vocalized its immediate approval.

It should be noted that, as is the custom, the program notes included a substantial, historical summary of the lives and careers of tonight’s three composers, as well as editorial notes on each song. Among the Richard Rodgers works, “Dear Old Syracuse” opened the show, from the 1938 The Boys from Syracuse, with Mr. Cazalet and Mr. Brancy seizing the stage in bright vocals and gestures. In “Maybe It’s Me”, from Rodgers’ 1926 Peggy-Ann, Ms. Worsham and Mr. Cazalet were charming and romantic, and Ms. Worsham’s rare, songbird qualities shone through. In fact, in each of her appearances, her poise, demeanor, and vocal quality were extraordinary. At one point early on, Mr. Cazalet took to Mr. Blier’s piano for a four-handed romp along the keys. Ms. Testa’s solo, “Everybody Loves You”, from Rodgers’ 1937 I’d Rather Be Right, was performed with powerful, steady presence, typical of this stylized, magnetic mezzo. She takes the stage with a slow, determined walk, gazing out at the audience with a knowing glance. She was a huge hit right from the start of this song, her first number.

The popular “Out of My Dreams”, from Rodgers’ 1943 Oklahoma was sung solo by Ms. Worsham, exuding scintillating, melodic tones. Ms. Testa’s “The Gentleman Is a Dope”, from Rodgers’ 1947 Allegro, was part narration, part song, or so it seemed, very personal and intimate in presentation. Mr. Brancy’s solo, “Some Enchanted Evening”, his debut song, from Rodgers’ 1949 South Pacific, sealed him for the evening as in the mold of David Pittsinger, who was reviewed on these pages, singing this Rodgers and Hammerstein showstopper. Mr. Brancy should have a successful career with such outsized, breathless vocals. Mr. Cazalet finished the Richard Rodgers repertoire with “Bargaining”, from the 1965 Do I Hear a Waltz, a song about the art of shopping, eloquently sung in an Italian accent.

The Mary Rodgers repertoire was introduced with Ms. Worsham’s solo, “Something Known”, from the 1966 The Member of the Wedding, sung with slight atonality, drawing interest to this unpublished song. Ms. Testa followed with “The Boy From…”, from the 1966 The Mad Show, a comedic tune about men. “Am I”, from the 1988 The Griffin and the Minor Canon, sung by Mr. Cazalet, as the Griffin, a monster, was yearning and fervent. Mr. Cazalet and Mr. Brancy then teamed for “Fear”, from the same show, with deep, gorgeous tones. “Happily Ever After” from Mary Rodgers’ 1959 Once Upon a Mattress, was sung as a trio, with Ms. Testa, Mr. Cazalet, and Mr. Brancy, to close tonight’s Mary Rodgers repertoire with enthusiastic, effusive harmonies.

Adam Guettel’s ongoing, contemporary repertoire opened with his 2013 song, “There Go I”, sung pop-style by Ms. Worsham. It was followed by a new work in production, “Saint Who” from his 2015 Millions. This song, a tribute to a mother who should be called a saint, was compellingly sung by Mr. Brancy, leading the ensemble as a chorus. “Dividing Day”, from Mr. Guettel’s 2003 The Light in the Piazza, was sung in spellbinding solitude by Ms. Testa, while the title song from the same show was sung in a masterful showcase by Ms. Worsham. Two songs from Mr. Guettel’s 1998 Myths and Hymns, “Awaiting You” (sung by M. Brancy) and “Migratory V” (sung by the ensemble quartet) closed the evening, followed by a reprise of “Saint Who”.

I certainly hope New York Festival of Song will bring back events like tonight’s, with rising and seasoned Broadway singer-actors, to supplement their already superb events that introduce new vocal talent to their multitude of fans. It should be noted that the lyricists for tonight’s show, although not mentioned, are the crème de la crème: Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Marshall Barer, and Ellen Fitzhugh, all for Richard Rodgers’ and Mary Rodgers’ songs. Mr. Guettel writes his own lyrics. Kudos to all.

Steven Blier at the Piano, Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham, Mary Testa, John Brancy
in NYFOS' "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel”
Courtesy of Karli Cadel

John Brancy, Mary Testa, Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham
in NYFOS' "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel”
Courtesy of Karli Cadel

Steven Blier, Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham, Mary Testa, John Brancy
in NYFOS' "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel”
Courtesy of Karli Cadel

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