Celebrating 29 Years of Ahrens and Flaherty and the New York Pops

2012-05-02-AHRENSANDFLAHERTY2.jpg Broadway is a tough business. Besides talent, success requires years of work, inexhaustible energy, and unwavering focus. Artists engaged in joint efforts have the added day-to-day challenge of setting their egos aside in service to their craft. Though finding the right collaborator can prove far more difficult than choosing a spouse, when two artists click, their work can transcend their individual talents and profoundly touch their audience. Creative partners for 29 years, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty not only are successful but have -- almost effortlessly, it seems -- secured their place in the hearts of theatergoers worldwide.

2012-05-02-REINEKE.jpgTwenty-nine also happens to be the same anniversary celebrated by the New York Pops Monday night at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra itself is nothing less than an amazing collaboration between its gifted musicians and its current conductor, the charming Steven Reineke. Bringing these two sets of celebrated collaborators together in the historic venue for a tribute to the songs of Ahrens and Flaherty resulted in a highlight of the Pops' season.

The evening started off with Mr. Reineke not at the podium but at the piano for the opening number, from Ahrens and Flaherty's Tony-Award-winning hit Ragtime. While the crowd was still enjoying his too-short solo, Mr. Reineke popped up from the keyboard, took charge of the orchestra, and brought the number to an inspirational end, proving that even with grade-A talent lined up for the evening, the true star of any New York Pops' concert is the New York Pops.

The dream lineup of performers began with Liz Callaway singing Ahrens' and Flaherty's Oscar-nominated song "Journey to the Past" from the animated film Anastasia. Ms. Callaway, with her crystalline voice, set the bar high for the evening, and as the program continued with Jason Danieley effortlessly pulling in the crowd with his rendition of "The Streets of Dublin" from A Man of No Importance, it was clear that the Pops and their guests would be have no trouble meeting high expectations.

The night was narrated by four-time Tony-Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, who, looking distinguished and dapper and reading from a large storybook, introduced a collection of Broadway's best, including Boyd Gaines, Marin Mazzie, LaChanze, Brian D'Arcy James, and The Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells. Mr. McNally, who wrote the books for Ragtime and A Man of No Importance, praised the songwriting team's accomplishments and movingly expressed his gratitude for the opportunities he's had to work with them.

A highlight of the gala was the pairing of Seussical's Kevin Chamberlain with 10-year-old Lewis Grasso from Newsies, who sang the duet "Alone in the Universe" from Seussical. Supported by Mr. Grasso's perfect childhood voice, Mr. Chamberlain, who brought the character of Horton the elephant to life in the original production, delivered the elegantly simple song with the perfect combination of melancholia, sweetness, and wonder.

The gala audience was also treated to two other Seussical songs. "It's Possible," performed by the Camp Broadway Kids, was a tremendous crowd pleaser, and "Green Eggs and Ham," an instrumental number, put to rest any notion that the Pops was merely there for the evening as the soloists' back-up band.

By far, the evening's most moving moments occurred when Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Famer Darlene Love took the stage accompanied by the Ronald Mc Donald House Rock Band and Chorus. The spirit and joy -- not to mention the fine musicianship -- of these young people powerfully illustrated the ability of music to conquer fear and raise hope. A vital component of the New York Pops is its educational programming, and it was a pleasure not only to see the effect of music on these kids who are facing health challenges but to see and hear the exceptionally talented students from the Pops' Salute to Music program, who were invited to play with the orchestra for this wonderful event.

This fantastic finale to the Pops' 29th season may have set up some daunting expectations for its 30th, but if history is any indicator, Mr. Reineke and his talented collaborators will not disappoint.

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