Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Bernstein and Robbins: A Broadway Celebration
The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Side Show, Switzerland, Frankenstein, Man of La Mancha, and The Three Musketeers


2018 marks the centennial anniversary of the births of both Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. To celebrate this occasion the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra commissioned an original concert devoted to these two Broadway icons. For three concerts last week, this special event featured exceptional performances from the symphony and a quartet of New York based singers who contributed solid vocals on a wide-ranging selection of material that represented the importance these two men had on the theatre world.

Scott Coulter served as the narrator of the concert and his well-written, detailed and slightly playful narrative was delivered with both a clear understanding of these two men and also a deep connection to the audience. Under the baton of conductor Stuart Chafetz, Coulter and guest vocalists Kerry O'Malley, Christine Cornish Smith, and Joshua Israel performed over a dozen classic showtunes associated with these two famous men.

Bernstein and Robbins were responsible for a number of classic musicals during Broadway's Golden Age of the 1940s - 1950s. They were good friends and frequent collaborators who either together, or with such other well-known contributors of the theatre as Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, were behind such classic musicals as West Side Story, The King and I, On the Town, Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, and Gypsy. All of those shows were featured in the concert along with tunes from several other beloved shows.

Their collaboration began with the 1944 ballet "Fancy Free," which was the basis for the musical On the Town. The opening number from that show, "New York, New York," made an energetic start for this concert and allowed a quick introduction to the vocal abilities of all four singers which was followed by Cornish Smith's deliciously comical performance of that show's "I Can Cook Too." O'Malley also got to display her dry and humorous lyric delivery with "100 Easy Ways (to Lose a Man)" from Wonderful Town.

The original production of Peter Pan featured Robbins' direction and choreography, and Coulter's charming and stunning performance of "Neverland" from that show, with John Boswell's beautiful and rich piano accompaniment, was a major delight. Other well-delivered solos included Cornish Smith's lovely performance of "I Have Dreamed" from The King and I, Coulter's romantic, understated but stunning delivery of "Hey, There" from The Pajama Game, and two solos that showed off O'Malley's powerful, soaring voice: "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy; and Funny Girl's "Don't Rain on My Parade." Boswell provided a piano solo of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide that not only showed off his skilled piano abilities but also exhibited the exceptional playing of the entire Phoenix Symphony Orchestra.

Probably the most successful contribution Bernstein and Robbins made, with the addition of lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book writer Arthur Laurents, was West Side Story. The concert featured several excellent performances from that show, including a beautiful duet of "Something's Coming" that found the voices of Israel and Coulter's blending and harmonizing together to deliver gorgeous sounds. Israel showed off his skillful freestyle tab abilities in a solo spot that flowed into an expertly jazzy performance of "Cool" sung by Cornish Smith that featured excellent piano and bass solos. Coulter's lilting performance of "Maria" soared, with each note floating and hanging in the air to be savored.

Two songs from Robbins' other huge hit, Fiddler on the Roof, were featured. The quartet harmonized beautifully on that show's classic number "Sunrise, Sunset" and ended the concert with a rousing performance of "To Life." Then the four singers, Boswell, and conductor Chafetz returned to the stage for an encore that included a pairing of "Some Other Time" from On the Town and "Somewhere" from West Side Story that ended the concert on a high note.

The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra continues to provide a wide range of concerts, including numerous "pops" shows that feature music from beyond the classical realm. The evening that focused on the contributions of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins wasn't just a tribute to these masters of the American musical theatre but also a testament to the exceptional musicianship of the Phoenix Symphony.

Bernstein and Robbins: A Broadway Celebration with the Phoenix Symphony played three performances from October 13th to 15th, 2017 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.


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