Steve Ross, arguably our best interpreter of Cole Porter, Noel Coward, and possibly George Gershwin, is a maven of the undiscovered song. The veteran artist takes great pleasure in disinterring and introducing numbers by known (and likely unknown) writers to a surprised public. Monday night, aided and abetted by Max St. James in his seventh library show, Ross did just this, celebrating the centennial of lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986)
Lerner’s main collaborators were Frederick Lowe and Burton Lane, creating between them the popular Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot and Gigi. Among other partners were Kurt Weill (Love Life), Andre Previn (Coco), Leonard Bernstein (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) and Charles Strouse (Dance a Little Closer). At the time of his death, the writer was working on a musicalization of My Man Godfrey with Gerard Kenny. Lerner won prestigious awards for both songs and screenplays.
After a rousing “We’re On Our Way” (Paint Your Wagon – Lowe) featuring the company, Ross treated us to the acerbic “I’ve Been Married” (Gerard Kenny). Knowing its lyricist was famously wed eight times, added resonance to wit. Few others would rhyme “married” with “hari-karied” or I picture writing epitaphs/And read The Book of Job for laughs…
Selections included, in part, several less than successful songs from Coco – though Kristoffer Lowe imbued “Let’s Go Home” with deep yearning and Stearns Matthews managed to wrangle sincerity out of “A Woman is How She Loves,” the company’s somewhat hammy version of “Take Me to The Fair” with three Gueneveres (Camelot with Frederick Lowe) in which Katie Schikdert was a stand out, and “Wandrin’ Star” (Paint Your Wagon with Frederick Lowe) rendered by Frank Basile’s appealing, gravely baritone and understated western lilt. Two waltzes by Maya Halbert and Laurent Mazouer nicely varied the program.
Highlights featured Len Cariou’s Soliloquy Act One from Camelot in which he stirringly manifested King Arthur’s feelings about Queen Guenevere and Sir Lancelot: “If I could choose from every woman who breathes on this earth…they would all be Jennies…If I could choose a man for my son, a man for my friend…they would all be Lance…Yes I love them, but they betray me…they must pay for it and be punished…but can I destroy what I love…?” And the actor’s exquisitely restrained “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” from Dance a Little Closer written with Charles Strouse – a song Cariou performed in Broadway’s original 1983 production.
Ninety year-old Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye, Birdie, Annie, Applause…) recalls “A.J.” confirming his “patience and perfectionism” as exemplified by writing eight “not very good versions” of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (with Lane) before delivering the inimitable final. “He’d sweat over the correct word to such a degree, he’d become nauseous.” Warned not to accept drugs from the lyricist, Strouse nonetheless took something that was offered after a fall “and was promptly unconscious…I’m having a moment,” the composer pauses. “I really miss Alan.”
Steve Ross and Charles Strouse
The composer then played and sang “Dance a Little Closer,” title song from his musical with Lerner. Performance was heartrendingly tender. Our jam-packed audience rose to its feet as one.
Only the director knows why a distracting figure in sunglasses and flamboyant robe should look on smirking from the sidelines during “Take Me to The Fair.” About other direction the less said the better.
The Company: Frank Basile, Maya Halbert, Melissa Jones, Jeanne Lehman-French, Kristoffer Lowe, Katie Schickert, Stearns Matthews, Laurent Mazouer, Jacqueline Milena Thompson, Karen Murphy, Brittany Summers. Special Guests: Len Cariou and Charles Strouse
Love Lerner? Steve Ross’s CD “I Remember Him Well: The Songs Of Alan Jay Lerner” will delight.
The New York Public Library’s free exhibitions and live shows depend partly on public assistance. The Friends Program can use your tax deductible help: https://www.nypl.org/support/membership/friends-library
Production Photos by Steve Friedman
Opening: Stearns Matthews, KatieSchickert, Kristoffer Lowe, Melissa Jones, Frank Basile, Brittany Summers
We Remember Him Well
A Centennial Salute to the Legendary Alan Jay Lerner
Hosted by Steve Ross and Max St. James
Directed by George Sterling Coyne
August 27, 2018
Bruno Walter Auditorium-The New York Public Library