Thursday, June 9, 2011

theatre review - THE BEST IS YET TO COME, THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN- Off Broadway, June 8

Stritch, White, McGillin, Mayes, Burnham and York
Cy Coleman had a prolific career, not just in musical theatre but also with an extremely successful career in jazz and song writing.  He wrote the scores to eleven Broadway shows including the smash hits Sweet Charity, Barnum, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies and his pop hits include "Witchcraft" and "The Best is Yet to Come."  All of this happened after he was an extremely successful jazz musician, performing and recording with his own jazz trio.

With a vast catalog of material it is hard to believe that a revue of Coleman's music hasn't happened until now.   But as the director of this revue, David Zippel, mentions in the Director's notes for the show, when asked about a revue of his music Coleman commented "that's for after I'm gone, let's write something new."  Coleman died in 2004 so I guess the more important question is, what took so long?

Zippel, who wrote the lyrics to City of Angels, has assembled a nice ensemble of Broadway performers for this Off Broadway revue, many of whom have some prior associations with Coleman.  Lilies White won a Tony for her performance in Coleman's last original Broadway show, The Life, Rachel York appeared in the original Broadway cast of City of Angels and Sally Mayes was in the original cast of one of the few Coleman Broadway shows that flopped, Welcome to the Club.  Add to this list two time Tony nominee Howard McGillin and the fairly young David Burnham and you have a small but effective group of performers who are more than able to deliver the more than 30 songs in this production.  Heading up the eight piece orchestra as well as providing vocals on a few songs and musical direction for the show is Billy Stritch.

Now this show doesn't attempt to do anything more than present Coleman's songs, there is no story or dialogue to bridge the material.  Fortunately Coleman had many successful lyricists he collaborated with so with Coleman's rich music you really don't need anything else as his songs pretty much can easily stand on their own.  If there is an overall theme to the show, I'd have to say it is about love and romance, both the good and bad as so many of Coleman's songs deal with relationships.

All of the performers are given many moments to shine- but here are just a few of my favorites: Lilias White gets to deliver the song "The Oldest Profession" that won her a Tony from The Life, which is creatively joined with a slowed down version of "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" from The Will Rogers Follies.   Mayes' delivery of the torch song from City Of Angels "With Every Breath I Take" as well as Seesaw's "Nobody Does It Like Me" are both showstoppers and really made me realize how Mayes should have had a much stronger Broadway career then she has had.  York shines on both the ballad "Come Summer" and the upbeat "Hey Look Me Over" from Wildcat.  McGillin delivers a touching "I'd Give the World" from an unproduced Napoleon musical and David Burnham's take on "Witchcraft" is not just a homage to Sinatra who made the song famous but also comes across with a nice theatrical touch and warmth as well.  The ladies are given a little bit more to do then the men with all three of them delivering a rousing "You Can Always Count on Me" and York and Mayes dueting on the comical gem from City of Angels "What You Don't Know About Women."  The entire cast has a few moments when they all sing together including one of the final songs in the show "It Started With a Dream" a song with a Zippel lyric from Pamela's First Musical that is both heartfelt and inspiring.

I liked how several songs were presented in different ways them you are used to seeing them as well as having some lesser known Coleman songs presented just as strongly as some of his more popular songs.   There are also a few songs from the as yet unproduced Coleman/Zippel comical musical N, based on Napoleon.

My only quibbles are that nothing from Barnum is heard in the show and only short songs from Will Rogers Follies and On the 20th Century.  Also, even with only a five person ensemble the stage can feel very cramped when all of them are on it.   As nice as it is to have performers of this calibre literally performing only a few feet away from you, a larger space would most likely fit this show better.

This production runs through July 3rd.  

Official Show Site

Cy Coleman singing "The Best is Yet To Come" -

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