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BWW Review: MAX VON ESSEN and LAURA MICHELLE KELLY Perform With THE NEW YORK POPS at Carnegie Hall

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BWW Review: MAX VON ESSEN and LAURA MICHELLE KELLY Perform With THE NEW YORK POPS at Carnegie Hall

The New York Pops' performance at Carnegie Hall was an overwhelmingly beautiful way to experience the music of theater (and I imagine if they did a John Williams score, too, it would feel similar.) Having seen most of these tunes played with just a piano and sometimes with a few more instruments, this full orchestra with a guest choir of at least 60 was like peering into the original imagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I wonder if they were ever able to experience such a thrill as to see "People Will Say We're In Love" with violins dueling cellos for attention and brass notes piercing through the din triumphantly. It as an excellently arranged experience by Music Director and conductor, Steven Reineke. Taking an audience through the history of even one of the most iconic theater duos can be tricky, but with the musical prowess of the orchestra at his disposal, instrumental breaks and short song introductions helped to keep the pace of the show going.

To spare the monotony of a verbatim walk-through, Reineke arranged the show to start with this dynamic duo's first musical, Oklahoma!, and to finish with songs from their last musical collaboration, The Sound of Music, during which Hammerstein, tragically, wrote the last lyrics he would ever write - about the flowers of Austria, "Edelweiss." It's chilling to hear now and think about all the beautiful music this pair developed over the years. It seemed that they wrote the soundtrack for the American public, and taught them about both distant shores and local towns such as in South Pacific or Carousel, and there were few more memorable songs than either the "Soliloquy" of Carousel or the "A Wonderful Guy" of South Pacific. In the first of these, von Essen was dynamic and performed with raw, believable emotion as he delivered his impassioned speech, "I'll go out and make it or steal it or take it or die!" With the rolling orchestra behind him, it was just mesmerizing.

Of course, the song from South Pacific doesn't have the same dramatic oomph, but it was one of Laura Michelle Kelly's best moments of the night as she tossed roses to various audience members from the stage. And, despite the levity and high spirits of the song, it comes smack dab in the middle of yet another one of the firebrands, R&H's most scandalous musicals. It seems they had a penchant for challenging the status quo, whether it was the naivete and hypocrisy of both the Thai royalty and their guest in The King and I, or racism in America, this pair were the originals to marry the American stage with its moral backbone.

Essential Voices USA were amazing too, whether it was the whole cast or just the women supporting Kelly on "A Wonderful Guy" or the men on "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame." They made great additions to the concert, and I hope they are back during the next New York Pops show. Overall, the performances were stellar, although I do believe Max von Essen had one of the best nights of singing I could ever imagine, out of anyone. He was strong, clear, and crisp, and I believe that there wasn't a phone off lock screen while he had a mic in his hands.

Ultimately, there are too many musicians to name them all, so to get your fix please keep an eye out for "The New York Pops."



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From This Author Chris Struck