Getting things right the first time sounds like a simple enough goal, but in romance it’s something like alchemy’s vain quest for the philosopher’s stone.
Much unhappiness is the result in ordinary life, but storytellers just roll up their sleeves and turn such base metal into gold, none more ingeniously in recent decades than Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim in “A Little Night Music.”
The comedy of mismatched lovers in upper-class Sweden just over a century ago, shot through with some of composer-lyricist Sondheim’s most buoyant songs, opened this weekend at Indiana Repertory Theatre — making a rare foray into musical theater look glowingly natural.
At the second of two performances Saturday, the production moved along smoothly from the first scene, as a vocal quintet swirls onstage, allowing the audience to start feasting its eyes on Linda Pisano’s glorious period costumes as Sondheim’s ingenious overture of voices floats by.
There’s more than a touch of improvisation in the way that piece is laid out, a clue to the unexpected turns in the plot and the characters’ need to react on the fly, usually with whatever substitute for wisdom lies to hand.
The show’s characters sometimes arouse grudging admiration and affection anyway, none more so than Desiree Armfeldt, a delicately aging, self-absorbed star of the Swedish stage lacking emotional moorings. Sylvia McNair played the role with a nice balance of superficial charm and increasing recognition of her need for stability. She also comes to value the promise of the future represented by her daughter, Fredrika, played with genuine curiosity and intelligent energy by Maggie Williams.
Desiree’s feelings are stirred by flickering ardor for a former lover, the lawyer Fredrik Egerman, enacted with a handsome blend of self-possession and vulnerability by James Rank. The chemistry between Rank and McNair — under the suave guidance, like everything else in the show, of director-choreographer George Pinney — was palpable. By the time of “Send in the Clowns” in Act 2, it would have taken a heart of stone to resist sympathy for the couple’s flawed affair.
Other performances that made strong impressions Saturday included Grace Morgan’s giddy portrayal of Fredrik’s virginal wife, Anne; Glenn Seven Allen’s droll account of Desiree’s conceited, dense lover Carl-Magnus; and Nicholas Fitzer as Fredrik’s son, Henrik, a high-strung seminary student unable to bring his behavior fully under the rule of his spiritual guide, Martin Luther.
Ray Fellman led the small, effective orchestra from the cozy pit at the front of the stage. The show’s variety of waltzes washed over the proceedings with crisp distinction, finely coordinated between band and singers. The rapid back-and-forth wit of such duets as “You Must Meet My Wife” and “It Would Have Been Wonderful” and such rousing ensemble pieces as “A Weekend in the Country” and “The Glamorous Life” precisely showcased Sondheim’s gift for making ironic viewpoints seem central to the proper appreciation of life’s entanglements.
Desiree and I were made for each other. At least that’s how I feel! Tomorrow, I’ll ask her how she feels. I’m the right age, with the right life experiences, to walk around with her and tell this story. Working at the amazing IRT – my very first equity house!!! – in my adopted home state feels like nothing short of perfect.
Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music might now be 40 years old, but its theme of flawed people in flawed relationships is as real as life today.
You’ve had a wonderful career…anything about what you’re going to do as Desiree that takes you to a new place artistically, emotionally, creatively?
Desiree is not a ”singing role”, it’s primarily a speaking role. That’s a departure for me because my career has been built on singing. I’ve done quite a few ” dialogue shows,” even in other languages (in countries where audiences actually speak those languages!), but this one is my favorite.
For any of us who are single moms, who’ve been left by a man we adored, who’ve had to deal with aging in a profession that doesn’t like its leading ladies to age, or who’ve had complicated relationships with our own mothers, getting to know Desiree just feels good. Hearing her sing the famous ”Send In the Clowns” (arguably Stephen Sondheim’s most famous song), when you know the story that makes it true, is very satisfying.
She’s smart, she’s strong, she’s talented, she’s beautiful. I couldn’t have done the role of Desiree before I turned 50; you have to have lived life and have lost love to understand her. She finds humor and joy in everything! Especially the younger men who chase her! To sing and act the role of Desiree Armfeldt for a company like the IRT is a dream. I am honored to have been asked to participate.
The gala opening concert that kicked off MusicFest Vancouver on Friday night was entitled Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience. This concert was aptly named. There really is nothing comparable to personal experience in bringing the legacy of great composers to life. This is where Kevin Cole, piano virtuoso extraordinaire comes in. This show was especially enhanced as much by his personal anecdotes and memorable experiences with Gershwin legends as it was by his stylistic excellence. He does not just cover Gershwin’s considerable oeuvre but brings it to life as if Gershwin was in the room and proves that his legacy is indeed here to stay.
Adding considerably to the rich talents of Kevin Cole’s singing and piano, was the hauntingly beautiful vocal accompaniment of the incomparable Sylvia McNair. Then there was Ryan VanDenBoom, the tap-dancing troubadour whose magical feet were reminiscent of Gene Kelly.
Rounding out the musical component of the evening was the astoundingly vibrant orchestral performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The VSO are always a delight, but especially so on this gala opening night tribute to Gershwin.
The first set warmed the crowd up with Strike up the Band, The Man I Love, ‘S Wonderful and But Not For Me. Then in this set’s incredible finale, Gershwin’s most famous Rhapsody in Blue drenched the audience with aural delight.
This set was made considerably more personal and experiential by Kevin Cole’s anecdotes and a photographic display from the Gershwin archives projected simultaneously onto two large screens on either side of the Orpheum Theatre. Kevin Cole really knows how to make an audience feel at home with this astounding music. His nimble fingers were also shown in close up on these screens throughout the performance.
The orchestral feel of the second set blasted off to a start with the satiric Of Thee followed by Slap that Bass, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off and Love is Here to Stay.
Finally, Sylvia McNair performed a spine-tingling rendition of Summertime, Ryan VanDenBoom punched out the plosive I Got Rhythm, and then to close the evening off Kevin Cole accompanied the VSO in a rousing version of what Gershwin called an “orgy in rhythm” – namely, Allegro Agitato, from Concerto in F.
SOURCE: Roger Wayne Eberle, Review Vancouver
Friday, 10 August 2012 at 8pm, The Orpheum Theatre
Sylvia McNair is so effervescent you can almost hear the phone lines fizzing. To begin with, the singer is excited about coming to Vancouver—one of the few urban centres in North America, she notes, where she has never performed. She’s enthused, too, about the people she’s coming with: pianist Kevin Cole and tap dancer Ryan VanDenBoom, who’ll join conductor Leslie Dala and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to kick off the 2012 edition of MusicFest Vancouver with Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience.
“To sing music I love, with people I love, in a place I’m sure I’m going to love? For me, life doesn’t get any better than that,” says the soprano, in a telephone interview from her home in Bloomington, Indiana.
According to McNair, her role in this tribute to composer George Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira is relatively easy. “What do I have to do?” she says with playful bemusement. “Oh, I don’t know: be brilliant and charming and look gorgeous? That’s about it, really!”
McNair has nothing but high praise for her colleagues, and especially for Cole, whose on-stage tasks include replicating Gershwin’s piano magic in 1924’s Rhapsody in Blue, arguably the first successful attempt to fuse classical form with jazz syncopation.
The respect is clearly mutual.
“It’s always fun to work with people who have self-awareness, are secure, and have more talent than they know what to do with—and Sylvia qualifies in all those categories,” says the pianist, interviewed while visiting his parents in Bay City, Michigan.
“I told her ‘Somewhere in heaven an angel doesn’t have a voice because you stole it,’” he adds with a laugh. “I know that sounds like a line out of a ’30s movie, but it’s just not that fair that she has that beautiful face and that beautiful voice comes out of it. She’s the real deal.”
For McNair, Here to Stay is a welcome diversion from her own concerts of classical and popular music, and from her day job as professor of voice at Indiana University. For Cole, though, the show is the culmination of a nearly lifelong obsession that began when, by purest chance, he stumbled onto a late-night broadcast of the 1945 Gershwin biopic Rhapsody in Blue. “I was seven years old,” he recalls. “I had already been playing the piano for a few years at that point, but the musical numbers in that movie were done so well that it inspired me more to find out about Gershwin.”
His research paid off big-time when, at 16, he found himself knocking on the New York City door of Edward Jablonski, author of The Gershwin Years and another Bay City native. (As, strangely, is VanDenBoom.) Noting Cole’s uncanny ability to capture the essence of Gershwin’s piano style, the historian soon introduced him to the surviving members of the composer’s circle, including Gershwin’s long-time mistress and muse Kay Swift.
“I’d play for them, and Kay once said, ‘I think I speak for everyone here when I say we haven’t heard the piano sound like that since George,’” Cole says. “It was one of those Twilight Zone moments, because it wasn’t anything I’d studied; it was just the way it came out when I saw the notes on the page.”
As for why a child of the turbulent ’60s should be so enraptured by this decades-old music, Cole can only conclude that Gershwin’s songs are timeless.
“When Gershwin was born, in 1898, he would have heard the clippity-clop of horses’ hooves, and the songs of pushcart vendors, and things like that,” he says. “But then, by the teens, he’d be hearing automobile sounds and skyscrapers being built, so all this industrial machinery and those noises were going on. It was a whole changeover in the ambient sound of the city, and that all influenced him. He heard music in everything, so he just channelled it through that brain of his to create something uniquely American—and the music still leaps off the page.”
SOURCE: Alexander Varty
The only thing missing was the bejeweled skyline of New York at night as Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra PNC Pops swirled through “Here to Stay — The Gershwin Experience,” concluding its season with what amounted to a musical exclamation point.
Leading the way was Kevin Cole, a pianist who has made a career out of channeling the cosmopolitan wit and sophistication of George Gershwin, a songwriter who successfully made the transition from Broadway to movies and ragtime to the concert stage.
“The Gershwin Experience” was made possible by Premiere Media LLC, headed by Todd Gershwin, great-nephew of Mr. Gershwin and his brother, Ira, and Daniel Chilewich. They assembled a multimedia production with a script that nimbly traced Mr. Gershwin’s life.
The program was dominated by a giant screen filled with archival photos, a nifty Hollywood home movie segment at the swimming pool of Harold Arlen (“The Wizard of Oz”) and a projected camera view of Mr. Cole’s keyboard from the lower range, a great angle that was somewhat disconcerting because the footage was ever-so-slightly behind the actual performance.
That didn’t hamper Mr. Cole, though, last seen here in a more abbreviated role at the Pops in 2007 and who was obviously still at home in the Gershwin lexicon. The audience responded with a rare double standing ovations for his interpretation of the turbulent third movement from the Concerto in F and the sweeping jazz musical landscape of the now-so-familiar “Rhapsody in Blue,” studded with Thomas Thompson’s deliciously insinuating clarinet solo, Charles Lirette’s growling trumpet accents and a low brass climax at the end.
Sylvia McNair, on the other hand, brought her own glamorous style, a rich blend of opera and cabaret, to the evening. Demonstrating beautiful control, her songs ranged from the lovelorn “But Not for Me” to the airy “Summertime.”
This “Gershwin Experience” was, in the composer’s words, ” ‘S Wonderful,” but gathered its own joie de vivre in polished transitions from film footage to the orchestra and the performers, details not often seen at the pops concerts. Yes, it seems that Gershwin, given the pops’ great treatment of his wide-ranging musical panorama, will also be here to stay for a very long time.
Pittsburgh Symphony Pops ‘Here to Stay—The Gershwin Experience’
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 8 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $20-$95; 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
SOURCE: Jane Vranish, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops is closing its season with a remarkable program that pays tribute to composer George Gershwin in fascinating and touching ways.
The title “Here to Stay —The Gershwin Experience” is inherently poignant and hints at the concert’s special components. “Love is Here to Stay” is the last song Gershwin worked on, which he did not complete because of the rapid onset of a brain tumor that killed him in 1937 at age 38.
The concert opens with a bit of a film of Gershwin playing his “Strike Up the Band.” As poor as the sound is for this moment, it sets up his presence at this concert in uncommon ways — as a person and in his pacing and style of playing his music.
For much of the evening, including the Pops performance of “Strike Up the Band” that immediately followed the film clip, Gershwin’s own performing style was impressively evoked by pianist Kevin Cole, principal Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch and the orchestra. Gershwin’s music often is slowed down and sentimentalized.
Pairing “Rialto Ripples” with “Fascinating Rhythm” was more than delightful music. It showed Gershwin’s progress as a composer and Cole’s idiomatic Gershwin style, including swift tempi. The screen over the orchestra that had been used for the film of Gershwin now showed Cole live, which emphasized the wide stride intervals in the left hand. Unfortunately, the visual image was out of sync and slightly behind what we heard.
Two other guest soloists added valuable dimensions to Thursday night’s concert at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
Sylvia McNair sang several of Gershwin’s great songs with affecting style and vocal purity. A widely admired opera and concert singer earlier in her career, McNair was no less cherishable in a poised, not sentimentalized, account of “Summertime.”
Ryan VanDenBoom brought an appealing personality to his portrayal of Gershwin’s friend Fred Astaire in several numbers. VanDenBoom sang and tap- danced in “The Half of it, Dearie, Blues,” which Gershwin and Astaire recorded in London in 1926. It can be found on an invaluable, but, of course, old-sounding CD set called “George Gershwin Plays George Gershwin” on the Pearl label. Another similarly titled historical CD — substitute “performs” for “plays” — includes Gershwin conducting a rehearsal with five singers and orchestra of parts of “Porgy and Bess,” including “Summertime.”
VanDenBoom also tried his hands at playing percussion, but ended up losing a stick and causing his snare drum to fall over while he danced away. Astaire, apart from his genius as a dancer and distinctive style of singing, played his own drum set.
The film clip that began the concert was only the first of many Gershwin memorabilia that enhanced the concert’s value. In addition to home movies, many photos were shown — a bit too quickly I thought. If you blink, you might miss the photo of Gershwin working on his last painting — a portrait of his friend and fellow composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Cole also delivered a script that provided a personal portrait of Gershwin, and honored his brother and lyricist Ira, who was heard speaking in a recording. While the script would benefit from pruning at the beginning, it was an essential part of the most worthy concert tribute to Gershwin I’ve seen.
SOURCE: Mark Kanny, Trib Total Media
So an opera singer, a guitarist, and a musicologist walk into a cantina … no, it’s not a joke! Grammy-winning vocalist Sylvia McNair joins musicians and experts in the world of Latin love songs, including Luiz Lopes, Guido Sánchez, and Daniel Stein of IU’s Latin American Music Center.
It’s an hour filled with performances and an informal chat about some of the greatest of “musica del amor” from south of the border, including selections from the new CD, Romance.
Join us for Latin Love Songs – just in time for Valentine’s Day! Its on-air debut on WFIU is Monday, February 13, at 7 p.m.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 13, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Latin American Music Center (LAMC) at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is pleased to announce the pre-release of “Romance: A Collection of Latin Love Songs,” a new CD featuring Grammy Award-winning vocalist Sylvia McNair and jazz faculty members Tom Walsh, Jeremy Allen and Luke Gillespie.
Produced by the IUMusic-LAMC label, with participation by the young leaders of the Center’s Latin American Popular Music Ensemble and under the direction of Guido Sánchez-Portuguez, “Romance” takes us through the soulful and intoxicating experience of Latin American love songs.
The new CD includes famous songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Agustín Lara and Consuelo Velásquez, conjuring images of platonic, playful and contented love, along with stories of passion, betrayal and heartache, all told through the rhythms of bossa nova, bolero and cha cha cha from Brazil, Cuba and Mexico.
McNair sings in English, Portuguese and Spanish, showing audiences a new facet of her vocal virtuosity. By doing so, she joins the ranks of other famous American singers such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Linda Ronstadt in their embrace of the great Latin love songs.
“I’m still pinching myself that the Latin American Music Center let a girl from Ohio, who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish or Portuguese and who has no jazz credentials, join this wonderful project,” said Sylvia McNair. “Every hour of performing and recording was a complete joy, and I am forever grateful that the Latin Americans in charge of this were so patient and kind! I’m also wondering why I didn’t dive into this repertoire years ago. At least I’ve done it now, and it makes me smile.”
Pre-sales for the CD are now available through IUMusic MarketPlace.
Downloads will soon be available at the following locations:
From ThirdCoast Digest, Dec. 31, 2011
VanDenBoom and Cole possess pleasing, vernacular voices. McNair inhabits a different vocal plane. But she is that rare opera type who really gets the popular song. She reined in the vibrato and played to the microphone perfectly. Her matchless enunciation not only delivered the words and their sentiments, but also helped to etch the rhythms. Her wonderfully pure Summertime, purged of all diva carrying-on, is among the best I’ve ever heard.