Review: MIRACLE OF MIRACLES Rekindles Broadway Memories at The 92nd Street Y

A super celebration of lyricist Sheldon Harnick's creations running 6/1 to 6/3

By: Jun. 04, 2024
Review: MIRACLE OF MIRACLES Rekindles Broadway Memories at The 92nd Street Y
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The program began with a company number called “Beautiful, Beautiful World,” but the world feels a little less beautiful without the man who wrote the words – Sheldon Harnick, who passed away a year ago this month at age 99.  His lyrics often embraced optimism and focused on caring, but with humor and heft added to the heartfelt Harnick work.  The splendid concert, Miracle of Miracles: Celebrating Sheldon Harnick, ran June 1 to 3 at The 92nd Street Y, New York. The opening number is from The Apple Tree, whose book Harnick co-wrote. The music was composed by his most frequent collaborator, Jerry Bock. That titular tree is the one encountered by Adam and Eve, characters in the 1966 show.

Review: MIRACLE OF MIRACLES Rekindles Broadway Memories at The 92nd Street Y
Sam Gravitte. Photo credit: Richard Termine

Adam’s song “It’s a Fish” was not assigned to either of the real-life men named Adam in this program (Adam HellerAdam Kantor), but the third male singer, Sam Gravitte. Beaming energy and showing terrific timing, he nailed the character’s confusion and his bright voice was a pleasure to hear throughout the night, including his performance of a plaintive and poignant song cut from Fiorello!, “Where Do I Go from Here?”  Although he introduced it as something “you probably never heard,” that wouldn’t apply to audience members who know it from the recording by Liz Callaway or other performances.

The two Adams and Sam combined to fine effect on the satire of politicians’ deceptions in  Fiorello!’s “Little Tin Box” and “Rothschild and Sons” from The Rothschilds. Mr. Heller soloed on that score’s moving wish for world peace and tolerance, “In My Own Lifetime,” landing with extra relevance in this turbulent time of war and divisions.  Adam Kantor expertly nailed the nervousness in “Tonight at Eight,” one of four selections from She Loves Me. Young soprano Anna Zavelson impressed with her elegant vocals on that musical’s wistful “Will He Like Me?”  The concert was a smart balance between tender, introspective items and those that are full of fun for characters bursting with personality, all evidencing the talent for unforced but satisfying rhymes and clear images. 

Alysha Umphress scored mightily with each appearance, especially with the broad comedy numbers she jumped into with glee.  This began with the evening’s first solo, the wordplay-rich mock lament about being treated like “Garbage.” This early revue number has Harnick’s own melody.  We were informed early on that the night’s repertoire would be a wider survey than just the higher profile collaborations with Jerry Bock – such as all the shows mentioned above, Tenderloin (with one number included, a peppy song and strut through “Little Old New York” for the company), a deep dive into the inevitable Fiddler on the Roof, and even the recording of an ode to tractors and farm machinery written for an industrial show, but “Garbage” was just one of two examples and we had to wait all night for the other, when the full company was on stage for the sweet finale, which had Cy Coleman’s music: “You’re Going Far,” from the 1972 film The Heartbreak Kid.  (I had hopes for anything from Harnick scores with music by Richard RodgersJoe RaposoMichel Legrand, or his English lyrics for operas, etc.) However, even though they didn't delve too deeply into Harnick's other work, they took a worthy deep dive into Harnick and Bock's work, presenting an overview with equal representations of hits and hidden gems that don't often get played on this grand of a scale. They made excellent use of 92NY's large stage, allowing the entire cast of five to sing at once and presenting vocal harmonies in group numbers that you don't often get at this type of retrospective.

Sheldon Harnick was one of the best friends the Lyrics and Lyricists series at 92NY ever had.  He participated in numerous concerts, starting with its first season, in 1971.  He was a guest or host, and not just when the topic was his own material.  He offered insights and history in his own words about his own words to songs, singing some of them himself.  This posthumous return to his oeuvre was helmed by Ted Sperling, also a frequent L&L contributor.  Hosting, writing the script with its bits of history and anecdotes, conducting, playing piano, singing here and there, his work glowed with respect.  It was informed by first-hand acquaintance; as the music director and orchestrator of a Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, he got to know Mr. Harnick especially well.  That score was the most heavily represented in the evening, with not just the song that gave this program its title and three others that were in the many incarnations of Fiddler, but some that had been cut.  The two Adams, who’ve both been in productions of the musical, each strongly reprised solos they did as the characters they’d played: Mr. Kantor, from the Broadway revival Sperling conducted, handled the song this marvelous Miracle of Miracles was named for.  Mr. Heller, who played the lead of Tevye in Goodspeed in Connecticut, got the most tumultuous reception from the appreciative audience for an ebullient “If I Were a Rich Man.”  The audience was invited to sing along on “Sunrise, Sunset,” with the words projected on the screen where, earlier, we’d been treated to attractive visuals designed by Kylee Loera that enhanced, rather than distracting.  

Nick Stephens supplied the outstanding orchestrations played so expertly by Mr. Sperling, violinist Antoine Silverman (a fiddler not the roof, but sensational on the first-floor Kaufmann stage), Jason May on woodwinds, George Farmer on bass, reed player Aaron Heick, percussionist Janna Graham, and trumpeter Matt Owens on opening night/ Christian Marrero on the Sunday matinee and Monday night.  

It was a hugely successful songfest, a worthy centennial sensation.

Find more upcoming shows at 92NY's website.

This was the final show of Lyrics and Lyricist's 2023 - 2024 season, but look out for their 2024 to 2025 season.


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