SOUND OFF: New Year's Eve & Live From Lincoln Center's Marvin Hamlisch Celebration
2012 marked the passing of a number of notable entertainment icons whose influence will be felt for centuries to come, yet unquestionably one of the most pertinent people to pass on insofar as Broadway babies were concerned, especially given his considerable contributions to musical theatre, was the one and only EGOT-plus recipient himself - that is: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony-winner; plus a spare Pulitzer Prize, in his case, as a matter of fact - legendary composer/conductor/arranger Marvin Hamlisch. And, last night, byway of PBS and Live From Lincoln Center, audiences across the country were treated to a live gala event celebrating his tremendous Broadway and Hollywood legacy - Live From Lincoln Center's ONE SINGULAR SENSATION: CELEBRATING Marvin Hamlisch. Highlights of the star-studded night included SMASH's Brian d'Arcy James on a song he debuted in Hamlisch's short-running, but ravishingly-scored SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, Michael Feinstein with an emotional take on Hamlisch's self-professed favorite self-penned song, "If You Really Knew Me", as well as Raul Esparza and Kelli O'Hara on two obscure SWEET SMELL gems and West End superstar Maria Friedman with a song from Hamlisch's forthcoming Broadway musical THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, with book and lyrics by THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD's Rupert Holmes, based on the comedic cinema classic by Jerry Lewis. Yet, the moment of the night was owing to O'Hara and McDonald joining SMASH lead Megan Hilty on a spine-tingling iteration of the stunning A CHORUS LINE trio "At The Ballet" - an absolute knock-out. Spectacular! Through the ears of Marvin, last night we were reminded that nobody did it quite like he did while also remembering the way we all were - and what we won't forget, ever - while being entertained by some of the best songs of the last century offered up by New York's finest performers, musicians and behind-the-scenes creative talent.
Does The Man Make The Music Or Does The Music Make This Man?
Directed with expectedly assured precision and brimming with more than its fair share of cinematographic surprises and many unexpected delights for the audience at home thanks to recent SONDHEIM! and COMPANY helmer Lonny Price - the verifiable master of this sort of super-special stage-for-television event at this point, without a doubt - the Live From Lincoln Center tribute to Marvin Hamlisch was a dazzling night of the best of Broadway showing off their amply evident skills while also giving the generous opportunity to some of New York's finest musicians to pay tribute to the masterful musician, composer, conductor and arranger that undoubtedly was Hamlisch in his rich life and career as media-crossing composer/conductor. Featuring a Paul Gemignani-led New York Philharmonic, Avery Fisher Hall was the ideal venue to host the starry event tipping the top hat to one of Juilliard's most famous attendees, as well - with famous graduate and five-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, no less, as the affable host.
Starting off the night on an elegant and seemingly effortlessly moving note with a lushly re-arranged and uniquely striking "The Way We Were", Audra McDonald proved herself quite an amiable and effective emcee for the evening, all in all - to say nothing of her pristine instrument and her striking rendition of the Academy Award-winning THE WAY WE WERE title song, to say nothing of a tantalizing bit of Lesley Gore's "Sunshine, Lollipops & Rainbows" that Hamlisch scored a #4 Billboard hit with at 19 and the aforementioned crowning trio achievement of a night bedecked with Broadway kings and queens led by McDonald, O'Hara and Hilty on "At The Ballet". So, too, did the night end on a particularly emotional and refreshingly intimate note with a passionate and pleasingly played group version of "What I Did For Love", with verses shared by the entire convivial cast of colorful characters assembled to give voice to these songs over the course of the quick-paced and pert evening. On a more languid note, Josh Groban gave his dulcet tones and molasses vocal cords over to the ICE CASTLES Melissa Manchester collaboration "Through The Eyes Of Love", while Megan Hilty made the originally Carly Simon-sung THE SPY WHO LOVED ME James Bond theme "Nobody Does It Better" (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, who also wrote lyrics from the Hamlisch musical THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG) her own in a bluesy torch-song treatment of the material. TWO BROKE GIRLS standout Beth Behrs made her New York stage debut and made a solid case for her skills as a triple-threat with her tongue-twisting, humorously T&A-free "Dance 10, Looks 3" from A CHORUS LINE, complete with improvised embellishments both verbal and physical to compensate for the lyric cuts dictated by decency standards (as McDonald comically related, PBS is "the home of Big Bird," after all). So, too, as far as newcomers are concerned, was fresh-faced 2012 ANNIE revival star Lilla Crawford, who gave the SMILE semi-standard "Disneyland" (lyrics by Howard Ashman) her all, to the rapt delight of the audience (additional bow well-earned).
Furthermore, in Live From Lincoln Center's ONE SINGULAR SENSATION: CELEBRATING Marvin Hamlisch, the familiar faces of the evening excelled most of all with their uniformly well-chosen and finely-rendered material. Case in point: Recent LEAP OF FAITH lead Raul Esparza gave great gravitas to the sumptuous SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS ballad "I Cannot Hear The City" and imbued it with his characteristic persuasive charm in his sensuous and sensitive reading. Scintillating. That heavenly high was followed with another when NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT leading player Kelli O'Hara lent her clarion instrument to an out-of-town cut-out from the same show - one in which she originally starred, by the way; SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS - the exquisite "That's How I Say Goodbye" (lyrics by Craig Carnelia). Brian d'Arcy James also memorably recreated his unforgettable "I Want" number from SWEET SMELL - and how! - with the titanic "At The Fountain", while Michael Feinstein shared a touching story and then affectionately and tenderly rendered Hamlisch's own favorite of his songs. Also, Maria Friedman soared with her NUTTY PROFESSOR ballad - lilting, lovely and pure - being persuasively amusing with her slightly censored "Nothing" from A CHORUS LINE.
Additionally, in the midst of the music-packed ninety-minutes, the New York Philharmonic offered selections from some of Hamlisch's favorite scores and composers to go along with all his own songs showcased throughout the night - including a Rodgers & Hart staple featuring Hamlisch's own piano-playing, recreated live onstage and ably abetted by Joshua Bell's world-renown violin caressing; and, an orchestral version of WEST SIDE STORY's "Somewhere" that would have made major maestro Leonard Bernstein himself proud. All of that and the rarely heard overture for A CHORUS LINE to kick things off, too!
Broadway's most terrific triple-threats, New York's finest musical players and the best of the best creative crew joining together to positively set the night alight for both the audience at Avery Fisher Hall and the one at home simultaneously byway of a warm yet completely contemporary and appreciably comfortable atmosphere collectively made Live From Lincoln Center's ONE SINGULAR SENSATION: CELEBRATING Marvin Hamlisch one of the most singularly spectacular concert events on TV in 2012 and the best of all possible ways for an entertainment enthusiast to ring in the new year - this year or any year. "Won't forget," indeed.
Memories - those already made and the ones still to be created in the future, near and far. The music of Marvin Hamlisch will certainly play a part in both memories new and old for us all in one way or another as it did in 2012 and will in 2013 and beyond, no doubt - just as it has all of our lives. After all: baby, he's the best.