92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Salutes Warner Bros. Movies
With “It’s Magic: Nine Decades of Songs from Warner Bros.,” the 92Y Lyrics & Lyricists closed its 2011-2012 season in great form. Guided by a dapper and knowledgeable Rex Reed, this was one of the most satisfying of the series. Joining Reed were Christine Andreas, Polly Bergen, Jason Graae, Sue Raney and Tom Wopat, all experienced and polished singing actors.
Reed used both his encyclopedic knowledge and his interviews with scores of stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to keep the show moving along. His stories were always interesting, sometimes gossipy, never smarmy, but paced with a raconteur’s grace. Film clips peppered the evening. Bette Davis singing “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” (Schwartz/Loesser) was divinely hilarious.
Beginning with the ever youthful anthem “42nd Street” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) sung with a world weary punch by Tom Wopat, It’s Magic then went through the early talky period which gave Warners its cachet and its wealth. “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin) was given a sultry, adult interpretation by Sue Raney, a worldly, jazzy West Coast artist who added the golden aura of Hollywood nightclubs to the proceeding. Christine Andreas graced “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Warren/Dubin) with her bell-like soprano. Jason Graae’s homage to Jimmy Cagney was a rousingly sung and danced “Give My Regards to Broadway” (Cohan).
Each of these singers had other opportunities to shine. Sue Raney’s sophistication in two Doris Day standards, “It’s Magic” (Styne/Cahn) and “Secret Love” (Fain/Webster) showed that Day’s soaring versions weren’t the only way to treat these classics. Jason Graae was giddy Ray Bolger in Loesser’s “Once In Love with Amy” and a youthful, unironic Sinatra in “Young at Heart.” Christine Andreas made the Gershwin classic “The Man I Love” all her own, her voice glistening. Tom Wopat’s self-pitying “One for My Baby” and jazzy, casual “Blues In the Night” (both Arlen/Mercer) were revelatory.
I haven’t mentioned Polly Bergen. As the senior member of the cast she brought an elegance and depth of interpretation to her three numbers. Commemorating her award-winning Helen Morgan Story she did a medley of “Don’t Ever Leave Me”, “Why Was I Born?” and “Bill” (all by Kern & Hammerstein with a touch of Wodehouse) and also sang “As Time Goes By” (Hupfeld). It’s incredible how rich her voice still is and how deep her interpretations have become.
“Hooray for Hollywood,” the Whiting/Mercer paean to the silliness and glory of La-La Land’s main industry was a rousing, full-cast finale.
Mike Renzi was the music director/arranger/pianist. His arrangements were exquisitely attuned to the period and the singer, creating as much atmosphere as the lighting. David Finck on bass and Dave Ratajczak on drums completed this expert ensemble.