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Review Roundup: Encores! A BED AND A CHAIR

Bernadette Peters, Norm Lewis, Jeremy Jordan and Cyrille Aimée star in Stephen Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis's new musical event featuring Sondheim's music arranged and performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra withWynton Marsalis. This Encores! Special Event, directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator John Doyle, with choreography by Parker Esse and musical supervision by David Loud, was conceived by Peter Gethers, Jack Vierteland John Doyle, and opened last night, November 13 at City Center.

A BED AND A CHAIR: A New York Love Affair celebrates love in New York and love of New York. Native Manhattanite Sondheim and adopted citizen Marsalis (originally from New Orleans) and compared musical notes on their shared passion for our city in a program that features more than two dozen Sondheim compositions, each piece newly re-imagined by the unique musical sensibility of Marsalis and performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The cast also features dancers Meg Gillentine, Tyler Hanes, Grasan Kingsberry and Elizabeth Parkinson.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: In general, the mission of this diverting but very awkward special Encores! production, a collaboration between Encores! at City Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center, seems to be to unbutton and unbend the work of the greatest precisionist of all Broadway songwriters. And while I've heard individual cabaret performers successfully take a similar approach, this particular meeting of great talents rarely finds compelling common ground...The show's director, John Doyle, has shown himself to be the most resourceful Sondheim interpreter of his generation...But as conceived by Mr. Doyle with the writer Peter Gethers ("Old Jews Telling Jokes") and the Encores! artistic director, Jack Viertel, "A Bed and a Chair" is ultimately less about modern city life than modern love. This is the default position for most compilations of Sondheim songs. Relationships, in all their terminal ambivalence, are Mr. Sondheim's specialty.

Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY: At the first of seven performances of A Bed And A Chair at City Center Wednesday night, no participant - not even the rapturously received Peters - got a heartier round of applause than the orchestra. Marsalis, mind you, declined to come forward for an individual bow, though he certainly deserved one, having been instrumental - literally and figuratively - in the evening's high points...Under Marsalis' guidance, and that of conductor/music supervisor David Loud, the musicians all mine the playfulness, passion and poignance of the material...Aimeé, not suprisingly, handles them with the most apparent ease, mirroring the musicians' flair for syncopation and scatting friskily in What More Do I Need? and You Could Drive A Person Crazy. But Lewis and Peters show their own grace and dexterity; he lends a lush soulfulness to the radiant So Many People, while her canny pauses in The Ladies Who Lunch - performed as part of a wry climactic medley, in which the characters stumble about drunkenly - would make Elaine Stritch proud.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: It's a juicy treat to hear pearls from the Sondheim catalog played by 18 gifted musicians...In "A Bed and a Chair," songs are reinterpreted, but not so radically reinvented that you won't recognize them...Peters, a Sondheim muse, unfurls big, broad takes on "Broadway Baby" and "The Ladies Who Lunch." But it's her delicacy and depth that make the wistful "I Remember" and the hopeful "With So Little to Be Sure Of" really shimmer. Jordan ("Newsies," "Smash") brings a breezy Michael Bublé bounce to his songs, including a fanciful "Giants in the Sky" placed in an urban setting. Lewis ("Porgy and Bess") has the least jazzy approach to songs, but delivers a tender "Loving You"... As is, Aimee is the revelation. This French jazz singer's voice has so much character that all her songs fly - especially "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." At one point, she agilely scats and music director Wynton Marsalis echoes her voice with his trumpet. Two words for the moment: totally jazzed.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: But while the concept is daring, the execution is timid - even, at times, downright bland. The new orchestrations are pleasingly brassy but conservative - nothing remotely comparable to, say, John Coltrane's 14-minute version of "My Favorite Things." And the singers are mostly from the Broadway world, so they perform in the expected Broadway style. Of course, when said style is done by Bernadette Peters, you pay attention. The evening's biggest payoff is her take on "Broadway Baby" and "The Ladies Who Lunch." She's slyly funny on the first and makes the second sound fresh by trading the customary roaring anger for sad resignation...The lone performer from the jazz world is Cyrille Aimée, a French-born newcomer who scats nimbly but has little vocal personality and doesn't seem to realize that lyrics tell stories.

Michael Sommers, New Jersey Newsroom: Dressed in different shades of corresponding colors by Ann Hould-Ward, the artists are in prime form. Peters is in fine voice and deeply touching in her wistful moments. Lewis's gleaming baritone and warm presence anchors the fleeting story. Jordan's smooth vocals and confident manner reflect a sporty guy. Aimee offers a flirtatious personality and some lively scat-singing, most notably in "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" (arranged by Sherman Irby). The dancers glide through Parker Esse's occasionally lyrical choreography. John Doyle's quick staging traces a circular flow around the bandstand, where musical supervisor David Loud conducts the orchestra. Marsalis's masterful trumpet work shines in several solos, although other musicians on saxophone and trombone also contribute individual excellence. John Lee Beatty's simple set and Ken Billington's supple lighting are supportive.

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