Lyrics & Lyricists: Songbook Classics by Unsung Lyricists

| May 8, 2017

Lyrics & Lyricists

Songbook Classics by Unsung Lyricists

92nd Street Y, NYC,  May 6, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Sheldon Harnick

Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Lorenz Hart are only some of the great many American lyricists saluted by the 92nd Street Y. Their songs are legendary, humming around our brains and are part of our legacy. But what about writers of songs like “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “I  Only Have Eyes for You,” and” “Forty-Second Street”? These songs are also woven into the tapestry of Americana. They are as ingrained in us as Porter or Gershwin, yet how many of us know who wrote the classic     “As Time Goes By”? 

At the Y, Sheldon Harnick (pictured) hosted a tribute to five leading unsung American lyricists, largely unfamiliar to many of us: Herman Hupfeld, Mack Gordon, Ned Washington, Leo Robin, and Al Dubin. Bright and witty at age 93, Harnick (lyricist for Fiddler on the RoofFiorello!, etc.) shared his treasure chest of lyric know-how in the program, Songbook Classics by Unsung Lyricists. He points out that these less familiar lyricists did not generally write for the theater, but many moved on to Hollywood to get into the movie game during that Golden Age of movie musicals. With projections provided on the backdrop, artistic director/pianist Rob Fisher led a five-piece band including Lawrence Feldman on reeds, guitarist Jim Hershman, Dick Sarpola on bass, and John Redsecker on drums.

Besides delivering bits of intriguing information, Harnick showed he can still deliver a song, starting with one by Hupfeld, that won him a harmonica in a contest at age nine, “When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba.” He urged the audience to join him as “he knocked the boop-a-doop-a for a loop-a.” Composer-lyricist Hupfeld, incidentally, was also responsible for “As Time Goes By,” performed here by Judy Kuhn (Fun Home).

With Kuhn, three other first-rate talents from Broadway, film, and concert stages—Aaron C. Finley (Kinky Boots), Elizabeth Stanley (Million Dollar Quartet) and Sal Viviano (City of Angels)—illustrated distinctive deliveries of 30 songs. From the Mack Gordon segment, Stanley’s heartfelt ballads—”The More I See You” and the Oscar winner, “You’ll Never Know”  —were outstanding. Kuhn simmered with an intimate “At Last.” A lively pairing had Finley lead the cast with the rhythmic punch of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and Viviano and the cast jived to “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo.” These songs were all written by Gordon and Harry Warren. 

Viviano brought his light touch to “A Hundred Years from Today” written by Ned Washington/Joseph Young/Victor Young. Kuhn’s rich tone was touching with his “The Nearness of You” (with Hoagy Carmichael). Three Washington/Leigh Harline evergreens came from the film Pinocchio, including Oscar winner “When You Wish Upon a Star” sung by Harnick, with the company joining him for the ending.

Kuhn, Stanley, Viviano, and Finley opened Act II with Leo Robin’s classic of urbane nonchalance, “Thanks for the Memory” (music: Ralph Rainger). From Robin’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (music: Jule Styne), Stanley was blonde and brassy with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and Viviano smoothly rendered “Bye Bye Baby.” The cast closed the Robin segment with the thrusting drive of “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (Richard Whiting and Franke Harling).

The prolific Harry Warren also worked with Al Dubin in the 1930s. A slangy sophistication in a film medley included the cast’s “Forty-Second Street,” a spirited Kuhn and Stanley duet on “We’re in the Money,” and “Dames” delivered by Finley and Viviano. Finley’s “Tip Toe Through the Tulips with Me” (Joseph Burke) was a silly, nifty throwback, and Viviano was captivating with “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The cast, and audience, joined to close with “Lullaby of Broadway. “

The final Lyrics & Lyricists shows for 2017 is From Camelot to California: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, scheduled for June 3–5, with a special one-performance-only on June 26: Lyrics & Lyricists Favorites: Your Choice.  

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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