Leonard Bernstein once said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” The music of this inspiring and gifted person is featured in the concert “Bernstein at 100: The Theater Songs of Leonard Bernstein,” performed by the Catholic University of America Musical Theatre Division in collaboration with Arena Stage.
According to music director N. Thomas Pederson, the music of Bernstein is relevant today because “This is a man that stood up for all people. He was a leader through the arts in the world of social justice, peace, and activism.”
The well-trained ensemble worked together cohesively to create a memorable evening of the music of Leonard Bernstein.
It was a joy to watch as the bright and lively students performed selections from Bernstein’s most famous works, including “West Side Story,” “Candide,” and “On the Town.” Little gems were also brought to life from “Peter Pan,” including “The Pirate Song,” a wonderfully witty song featuring Captain Hook and “Peter, Peter,” where Wendy (Elizabeth Seablom) is telling Peter how much she cares for him.
With just a few black stage boxes, stools, and some props, Director Pauline Grossman was able to stage and choreograph musical numbers that told a story in a most delightful way. Grossman’s staging for “Gee, Officer Krupke” from “West Side Story” was creative and hilarious as we watched the talented young male ensemble with soloist Shiloh Orr deliver no-holds-barred slapstick, stopping the show with much audience applause and laughter.
One could not help but feel the love that soloist Bethel Elias was feeling during the song “A Little Bit of Love” from “Wonderful Town” because of her cheery eye expressions and her very pretty singing voice.
Special guest and CUA alumni Kurt Boehm knocked it out of the ballpark with “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story,” enunciating each and every word and sung with great conviction. His rendition of “Lucky to Be Me” from “On the Town” was also truly special because of his natural delivery.
The female ensemble performed with great focus, a dreamy “Never-Land” from “Peter Pan,” featuring clear vocal harmonies.
In a touching dance performance by soloists Paul Roeckell and Julia Williams, “Lonely Town Pas de due” featured many beautiful lifts, embraces, loving looks into each others eyes, and even a gentle kiss.
Designer bags filled with expensive clothes, shoes, and jewelry filled the stage as soloist Morgan Kelleher superbly delivered the vocally demanding piece “Glitter and be Gay” from “Candide.” Causing much belly laughter, Kelleher would twirl jewelry over her head, hug and pet fur, and kiss shoes.
The concert featured 28 new orchestrations, arranged by Niklas Rodewald, one of CUA’s grad students. I really appreciated the sweet sounds coming from the band, including Patrick Gardner (piano), Nicholas Rao (violin), Nathaniel Hoyt (cell), Dan Hall (bass), and Alex Aucoin (percussion).
The well-trained ensemble worked together cohesively to create a memorable evening of the music of Leonard Bernstein. The cast includes Aaron OBrien Mackisey, Anna Phillips-Brown, Bethel Elias, Brigid Wallace, Conor Meehan, Elizabeth Andrew, Elizabeth Seablom, Jordan Essex, Julia Link, Julia Williams, Luke Donahue, Merritt Palmer, Morgan Kelleher, Paul Roeckell, Shiloh Orr, and Steven Bennett.
Running Time: Approx. 60 minutes with no intermission.
‘Bernstein at 100: The Theater Songs of Leonard Bernstein’ also played February 12 at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.