The multifaceted Cy Coleman “lived a life of musical adventure, always looking for something fresh and new to address.” (Michael Feinstein). Before he achieved the popularity by which he’s best known—writing for Broadway (earning eight Tony nominations, winning three awards) and popular song (every top artist sang his material), Coleman had played Carnegie Hall as a classical child prodigy and been in demand as pianist of his own jazz trio.
His productive career lasted 70 years.
Feinstein himself opened this evening’s celebration with a bouncy “It’s Not Where You Start” it’s where you finish, (lyrics-Dorothy Fields from Seesaw), a perfect example of the composer’s signature optimism. Between relating the informative and entertaining story of Coleman’s career, the host also performed two of the best numbers in the show: An easy, jazz/pop rendition of “Witchcraft” (lyrics- Carolyn Leigh) “I could hear Sinatra’s voice in my head: Putz, you can’t sing it like I can,” he quipped and the highlight of the evening, a version of “It Amazes Me” (lyrics- Carolyn Leigh) so tender and light it seemed, with only Tedd Firth’s gorgeous piano accompaniment, like a vocal sigh.
Chuck Cooper offered a sincere “You There in the Back Row” (lyrics-Carolyn Leigh from Wildcat), a chuckling “Thank God I’m Old” (lyrics-Michael Stewart from Barnum), and his Tony winning, show stopping number from “The Life” (lyrics-Ira Gasman). For the last, he was deemed “the meanest man on Broadway.” Cooper’s evocation was sleazy and evocative, his resonant baritone and acting ability showcased. A discussion of that show revealed the ten year development process during which Coleman was doggedly faithful to his cast.
Michele Lee, who played Gittel Mosca in Seesaw (lyrics-Dorothy Fields), expressively sang two numbers she originated in the Broadway production: “Nobody Does It Like Me” and the irrepressibly moving finale, “I’m Way Ahead/ Seesaw reprise.” Lee shared a tape recording of Coleman himself teaching her the second song and spoke of the out of town shake-up that put Michael Bennett in charge and found her replacing Lainie Kazan. Affection for the composer was palpable. (Pianist Ron Abel)
A glamorous Tamara Tunie sang “Where Am I Going?” to an arrangement that spoke neither to the plaintive lyrics nor of the dance hall singer’s personality and “Big Spender” which buried its innate sex in over textured music with too little percussion (lyrics-Dorothy Fields-both from Sweet Charity). Vocals were smooth. Only in the really pretty ballad “He’s No Good” (Lyrics Ira Gasman from The Life), did she have full opportunity to shine .
Johnny (Sunshine) Rodgers strutted his way through punchy renditions of “I’ve Got Your Number” (lyrics-Carolyn Leigh from Little Me) replete with saxophone and scat conversation and “The Best is Yet to Come” (lyrics-Carolyn Lee) which might’ve been more successful less big. His “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” (Comden/Green from The Will Rogers Follies) was a great fit. Rogers seemed completely comfortable with the homey lyrics and country influence of the song. The little bit of his piano was a treat.
Musicianship was excellent. Once again, applause goes to the terrific Andy Farber who excels with three instruments. Arrangements seemed too dense for the material often diminishing the lyrics.
The last in this excellent series:
Sweet and Lowdown: How Popular Standards Became Jazz Classics takes place at 7:30 p.m. June 5 and 6
Photo Credit Frank Stewart for JLC
Jazz at Lincoln Center presents
Cy Coleman: Bringing Jazz to Broadway
Michael Feinstein-Host and Director
Scott Siegel Supervising Producer/Director
Vocals by: Chuck Cooper, Michele Lee, Tamara Tunie, Johnny Rodgers,
Ted Firth-Music Director/Piano
Andy Farber-Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
The Allen Room-Frederick P. Rose Hall