New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Michael Barrett, Co-Founder and Assoc. Artistic Director
Elizabeth Ellis Hurwitt, Executive Director
W. Bradley Rubenstein, Chairman, Board of Directors
Hands Across the Sea
Mary Testa, Lisa Vroman
Hal Cazalet, Jason Graae
Steven Blier, piano
At Merkin Concert Hall
Press: Cohn Dutcher Associates
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 16, 2006
(See March 8, 2006 NYFOS Review)
ďHands Across the SeaĒ
Works by: Joseph Meyer/Philip Charig, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Caesar/Sammy Lerner/Gerald Marks, Andrť Previn, Stephen Sondheim, and Hugh Martin/Timothy Gray.
Tonightís program, ďHands Across the SeaĒ, showcases songs written by British lyricists and composers for Broadway and also by American lyricists and composers for the London stage. Some of the productions, whose hits are rapturously sung with relish, in solo, duo, trio, and full quartet, dating from 1916 (Miss Springtime) to 1987 (Follies), are: the Joseph Meyer/Philip Charig production, Thatís a Good Girl, 1928 (Lyrics by Douglas Furber and Ira Gershwin); Cole Porterís 1933, Nymph Errant; George Gershwinís 1924, Primrose (Lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Desmond Carter); Richard Rodgers 1930, Evergreen (Lyrics by Lorenz Hart); Cole Porterís 1929, Wake Up and Dream; Jerome Kernís 1917, Have a Heart (Lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton); Andrť Previnís 1974, Good Companions (Lyrics by Johnny Mercer); and Cole Porterís 1935, Anything Goes (Lyrics by Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse).
Speaking of P.G. Wodehouse, his great-grandson, Hal Cazalet, who performs opera and musical theatre, on stage and television, and composes and writes lyrics, was in tonightís cast. Jason Graae appears on Broadway, in special events at the Met Opera, at the Kennedy Center, and in film and CDís. Mary Testa appears on Broadway, Off-Broadway, film, and television. Lisa Vroman appears on Broadway, in filmed concerts, in London and Hollywood, and with orchestras on tour. The very busy, Steven Blier, known to his NYFOS fans as Artistic Director, Co-Founder, pianist, raconteur, and music historian, is also a vocal coach, opera accompanist, harpsichordist, impresario, record producer, opera broadcaster, quizmaster, essayist, and a faculty member at Juilliard.
This was a hugely entertaining evening, chock full of mime, camp, vaudevillian double-takes and spills, charisma, props, and some of the best singing and stage presence Iíve seen in a long time. With songs like Murderous Monty and Light-Fingered Jane, with some of the funniest lyrics (by Desmond Carter to Gershwinís melody) around, followed by Rodgers and Hartís 1930 Dancing on the Ceiling, the night began on an energetic edge. In fact, Jason Graae actually danced up the Merkin Wall and fell flat down, silent film style. Hal Cazalet and Lisa Vroman flirted in Rodgers and Hartís The Colour of Her Eyes, and then two solos followed, the first by Jason Graae, Youíre Too Far Away, and the second by Hal Cazalet, Wake Up and Dream. In contrast to these songs of lust and longing, the engaging Lisa Vroman appeared in The Physician, almost too ďbawdyĒ for 1933.
Jason Graaeís rendition of the 1929, Iím a Gigolo had tender theatricality, after Mary Testaís deeply resonant What Is This Thing Called Love (1929). When all four vocalists joined in for Meyer and Charigís 1928 Thatís a Good Girl, they played off each otherís seasoned approaches in quite seamless song. Where else would we hear Jerome Kernís 1916 Saturday Night from Miss Springtime (Lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse) sung by Wodehouseís great-grandson with endearing qualities of persona and pantomime? Cazalet was accompanied in song by Jason Graae, and together they described a woman with the original split-personality. Cazaletís Iím So Busy from Kernís 1917 Have a Heart was a remarkable moment, as the lyrics by Wodehouse and Bolton were sung with such panache and poise.
When Lisa Vroman and Jason Graae joined forces for Iíd Rather Charleston from Gershwinís 1926 Lady Be Good, we saw some great hoofing and legwork. The switch occurred in the next song, as Mary Testa joined Hal Cazalet for You Never Knew about Me from Kernís 1917 Oh Boy!. If only they still wrote these singable songs. One of my favorites, Spanish Jake, showcased Jason Graae at his finest, with sombrero and smile, as he retold another wild story about yet another wild character. Mary Testaís sultry showstopper was The Dance of Life, and in her long black, elegant gown, she mesmerized the audience with sheer projection of vocal power. Lisa Vromanís moment occurred in Sondheimís 1978 The Glamorous Life, and she sang with passion and pizzazz. The finale, Youíre the Top, from Cole Porterís 1935 Anything Goes, a sensational finish, followed more thoughtful works, Sondheimís 1987 Country House and the Martin/Gray 1964 Home Sweet Heaven from High Spirits.
As an encore, the charismatic quartet led the audience in a participation piece, with each seating section offering its own unique sound, and everyone had a grand time. Kudos to New York Festival of Song, and kudos to tonightís performers, Mr. Blier, Ms. Testa, Ms. Vroman, Mr. Cazalet, and Mr. Graae.
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta