Saturday, December 20, 2014

AudioBlog: The Cy Coleman Concert

Twice a year, I present concerts of classic show music with terrific Broadway singers accompanied by The Fred Barton Orchestra. The series is called "American Showstoppers," and the concept is simple: great classic Broadway songs, played by a great Broadway orchestra, and performed by great Broadway performers who know how to stop shows with them.

On October 18, 2014, I presented the fifth concert in the series:  "American Showstoppers: An Evening of Cy Coleman." Here's a sample, and it's my idea of a showstopper.

I orchestrate the concerts from scratch, all 25+ songs, sometimes doing a new version of my own, and sometimes (as in the example above) emulating the original Broadway sound.

It all began in the summer of 2011, when I learned of the death of Tommy Brent, the legendary producer of Theatre-By-The-Sea in Matunuck, Rhode Island. He took a chance and gave me my start when I was 18, and I worked for him for five summers. I felt that "attention must be paid to such a person;" and I organized a memorial concert at the theatre, featuring 21 performers whose careers Tommy had launched over the previous 40 years. Great show tunes, great performers, and a great band (including many players who had been in my orchestra 30+ years before at the theatre.) It was a smash, and a haunting occasion, our own real-life version of "FOLLIES," as all of us, now in our later years, stepped back into that theatre to meet our 20-year-old ghosts.

It suddenly dawned on me: shouldn't we be doing this kind of thing in New York? It is New York, after all; why are we all messing around with little sketchy piano club acts and garden-party musicales? And I launched a new series of evenings at the Metropolitan Room, cheekily entitled "Fred Barton Presents, And Thinks You're Gonna Love It!" I guess they did, since on the opening night there was a line all the way down the street to 6th Avenue. Every month, I rotated terrific singers, doing a random collection of our favorite Broadway and standard songs, accompanied by the 9-piece Fred Barton Broadway Band.

My dear friend Nora Mae Lyng (with whom I had launched a little skit called FORBIDDEN BROADWAY in 1981) brought Martin Kagan, Executive Director of Cultural Affairs at Pace University, to see one of the performances, and the rest is history. With his blessing, I upgraded the whole affair into a larger-scale full concert format, expanded the orchestra, and for the last 2+ years, my "American Showstoppers" series at Pace's Michael Schimmel Center has become a destination for those who love and miss classic show music as much as I do (I knew there had to be some people out there who do.)

The next concert takes place on Friday, March 6. "American Showstoppers: An Evening Of Irving Berlin" will feature Karen Ziemba, Brent Barrett, Lee Roy Reams, Karen Murphy, Damon Kirsche, David Elder, and NaTasha Yvette Williams, with feature performances by Jesse Luttrell, Bruce Landry, and Hannah DeFlumeri, and an orchestra of 14. The concert will be repeated the next night, Saturday, March 7, at the Leon Goldstein Performing Arts Center at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

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