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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NEW YORK'S 92nd STREET Y -- WHY NOT?

With all the hidden treasures in NYC, it’s easy to pass one up. However, having just returned from the first program of the 39th season of Lyrics and Lyricists at the 92nd Street Y, a smile still on my face and a song—or many songs—in my heart, I must point out this gem.

Lyrics and Lyricists celebrates the Great American Songbook. These musical concerts are exceptional, and the talent covers the range of theatrical possibilities. Rob and I first attended a program when friends who had a subscription were unable to make a performance. The following year we began to subscribe. The theater is beautiful and spacious. I don't believe there is a bad seat in the house.

Today’s program is Rodgers &…:Inside Five Collaborations. The artistic director and host is Martin Charnin who worked on two musicals with Richard Rodgers. Nominated four times for the Tony, he won twice. No shortage of talent there nor in any of the other performers. The music, of course, is glorious! Why not when we’re listening to Rodgers’ paired with theater icons, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Martin Charnin, and Sheldon Harnick? Why not when we’re treated to magnificent voices singing songs from such plays as Babes In Arms (although I know these songs from the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie), Pal Joey (which I know from the movie but have B’way revival tickets in March), Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific (now back as B’way revival but tickets are difficult to get), The King and I (which we took Allison to see when Yul Brenner actually played the King), Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music, No Strings, State Fair (where I’m a fan of both movie versions), and Do I Hear a Waltz?

Today’s 2½ hour show gifted us with 53 songs and an additional dozen in two medleys. Doesn’t get much better than this, and the crowd’s enthusiastic response was well earned. Two and a half is not a number we’re bound to hear at any concert, and when performed by vocalists of the experience, range, background, and ability we heard today, we couldn’t help but be bowled over!

The program begins with a breezy explanation of a few of Rodgers’ unique qualities as lyricist. Charnin spoke of his style--with examples, of course. For instance he defined internal rhyme, and then the vocalists sang, and sang, and sang! He also pointed out how Rodgers stuck with a tune and kept rewriting lyrics for it until a song worked. Richard Rodgers used one tune in three different shows with three different sets of lyrics until he finally hit it with the fourth try. We know that song as Blue Moon.

If there were one negative, it was that we had to stifle our inclination to sing along. This music is part of our theatrical heritage, and most of the audience probably knew most of the lyrics. In fact, at one point Charnin lamented the absence of verse in today’s music, and he played an audience participation game. A performer sang just the verse, and the audience had to guess which song it introduced. Each one came easily to some member of the audience.

We four who attended agreed today’s program is going to be a tough act to follow, but we have four more shows to go in the series. Tickets to individual shows can be purchased. Go the the Y website. If you live outside NYC, it’s worth the trip.

Don’t miss this or some of the other programs at the 92nd Street Y. Visit the Y’s website and you’ll see an incredible array of possibilities appealing to every interest. This week there are tours and a tea at Gracie Mansion, official residence of New York City’s mayor. There are cooking classes, a wine and cheese pairing presentation, a lecture by columnist Paul Krugman (not my style), as well as other possibilities. Look at the website’s calendar for more detail. Tickets can be ordered online. Many of the offerings repeat themselves throughout the year, so look ahead. This Y is not a membership organization (although there are membership options for some offerings), and anyone can attend any program.

There is even a café where we had lunch before the performance. We went early to find street parking although there are plenty of available garages in the area.

At any rate, go and enjoy.

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