This past Monday marked my first trip to Morningside Heights. Admittedly, I rarely leave the Midtown/Upper West Side area when in town, though I do occasionally shoot downtown for a Fringe or Off-Broadway show here and there. However, there was a special concert at the Manhattan School of Music that sounded like it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The school’s Chamber Sinfonia was presenting “Give Our Regards to Broadway,” an evening of Broadway music and overtures under the baton of Paul Gemignani, with special guest artists Kate Baldwin and Alexander Gemignani. The price of admission? $20. How could I resist?
So SarahB, Follies enthusiast Tyler Martins, and I ventured up to the school’s John C. Borden auditorium. General admission had us picking seats in the second row, three on the aisle. Much to my surprise, the program withheld the evening’s line-up; it seemed as though the artists wanted to surprise us and as both Sarah and Tyler can attest, I was pleasantly surprised all evening.
Mr. Gemignani got things started with the South Pacific overture, using the original orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett. I knew instantly we were in for a whirlwind evening. The students are magnificent. I realize that might sound like an obvious statement as they are attending one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country, but really, these kids are aces. Bennett’s orchestration for South Pacific is among the finest ever created for a musical, and the arrangement of the overture is absolutely staggering. I found myself as overwhelmed by it as I was at the 2005 Carnegie Hall concert and the opening night of the 2008 Broadway revival.
The only verbal remarks of the evening were made by Mr. Gemignani, as he stressed the importance of introducing students to the music of classic Broadway. For 90 minutes, we were treated to a total of 23 pieces. Six of these were overtures, including Oklahoma!, Fiorello! (I practically fell out of my chair when I heard the siren at the beginning), Funny Girl, Gypsy and the special overture created by Mr. Gemignani and Jonathan Tunick for the famed Sondheim 80th Birthday concert.
Kate Baldwin took us on a journey through leading lady land: ingenue, soubrette, star. Ms. Baldwin used her lush soprano on such classics as “What’s the Use of Wond’rin'” from Carousel, “When Did I Fall in Love?” from Fiorello and “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me (the latter two can be found on her essential album “She Loves Him“). She also sang “On the Steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods, which works better out of context than I would have thought. But the two most surprising moments came when she tore through “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Could I Leave You?” offering the audience a glimpse into two potential star turns in Ms. Baldwin’s future.
Alexander Gemignani made his entrance with the famous a cappella opening of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” from Oklahoma, while having a field day with “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” from Kiss Me, Kate, “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and “Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods. His showstopper, though, was a specialty written by Frank Loesser for the Betty Hutton film The Perils of Pauline, called “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble.” The song is about an apartment tenant who needs to move because the neighbor is playing piano night and day. (Tedd Firth was the virtuoso on the piano).
Together, the stars shared a medley from The Pajama Game (he sang “A New Town is a Blue Town, she sang “Hey There”), “Together Wherever We Go” from Gypsy and a spirited “There Once Was a Man,” also from The Pajama Game. One of the more obscure numbers of the evening was “I Want to Be with You,” introduced by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Paula Wayne in Strouse and Adams’ Golden Boy. For an encore, and to the sheer delight of Tyler, they sang “Too Many Mornings,” from Follies.
The musicianship was superb all around. It was a pleasure for me to hear many of these pieces performed with their original orchestration. In many cases, I have only heard experienced the arrangements through the original cast albums. For a mere $20, the Manhattan School of Music gave me the sort of evening I wish I could have every time I see a Broadway musical.