Carnegie Hall 2023-24 Review: The New York Pops, Starring Kelli O’Hara & Sutton FosterBy Logan Martell
(Photo Credit: Richard Termine)
On November 17, 2023, The New York Pops returned to Carnegie Hall for a special concert, featuring Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster. The concert comes as part of the company’s “One Night Only” series which sees renowned guest artists in a specially-tailored program celebrating their careers on stage.
Most recently, O’Hara has taken on the role of Laura Brown in The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “The Hours,” which marked her return to the Met’s stage after her 2018 tenure as Despina in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte,” and her time as Valencienne for Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” in 2015.
The concert pays tribute to the 1962 CBS special “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall,” and saw the two perform selections from Broadway and beyond. Between the selections was no shortage of comedic skits and anecdotes from their respective journeys, with material penned by Dick Scanlan and Kate James.
Opening the program was Steven Reineke and orchestra with a medley drawing from works performed by O’Hara and Foster such as “South Pacific,” “Anything Goes,“ “The King and I,” “The Music Man,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” and more. This arrangement made for a vivacious and unique overture as Reineke led the orchestra through the segments with panache.
After a humorous rendition of “Real Live Girl” from Cy Coleman’s 1962 musical “Little Me,” and trading some barbs over their respective schedules, O’Hara and Foster continued with “Great Adventure,” from Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2021 musical “Kimberly Akimbo.” Despite the gulf of time between these two numbers, the delivery and charm made them feel much closer to one another, as O’Hara and Foster’s harmonies unfolded over the chipper, ukulele-led musical texture.
Next was O’Hara singing two musical numbers; the first, “What More do I need” from Sondheim’s “Saturday Night,” was a sprawling ode to the highs and lows of city life, with O’Hara imbuing the mundane with as much vocal beauty as the heavenly. The second selection, “So In Love” from Bella and Sam Spewack’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” was a lyrical showcase of affection and longing as the hesitant, minor 2nd movement of the verse gave way to the soaring reverie of the chorus. In my opinion, O’Hara’s rendition of this song ranks among the finest, so to hear it backed by an orchestra as expressive and versatile as The New York Pops was a treat indeed.
Shortly after, Foster returned for “Answer Me” from David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’ 2017 musical “The Band’s Visit.” This poignant ensemble number made for a splendid duet between the two as the scarcer accompaniment swelled to a thing of beauty to highlight the transformative impact that happens when two hearts manage to connect. While prepared and delivered wonderfully, the release into the second chorus of this rendition lacked the same weight as its appearance in the Broadway show, where the separate events and emotions of its characters all melt into one crowning moment of shared sentiment and longing.
Next on the program was Foster, singing “I Like to Lead When I Dance” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Her splendid sense of phrasing imparted great energy, as well as a touch of bossy flair which brought the most out of the lyrics. This rendition was perfectly interrupted by O’Hara returning to the stage to waltz with Foster as the orchestra laid out measures from “Shall we Dance?” from “The King & I.” After spinning O’Hara through the backstage door with a crash, Foster and orchestra resumed the prior number with hardly a missed beat, bringing the mash-up to a boisterous close as she capped everything off with a quick jig and a triumphant, final pose.
The first half of the show closed with two numbers. The first, “How Do you Get to Carnegie Hall,” was introduced through a skit as O’Hara and Foster found themselves as waitresses in different states but with the same musical dream. The second, “Fable” from “The Light in the Piazza,” was filled with tremendous sentiment through the imagery of searching and the magic of encountering love, backed by the running keys, rolling arpeggios, and flowing strings.
Opening the second half was “Big D” from Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella.” This jubilant number included supporting vocalists Erica Mansfield, Eric Sciotto, Sherisse Springer, and Anthony Wayne emerging onstage in cowboy gear, followed by O’Hara and Foster. Their fun energy carried the leading ladies through the lyrics and beyond as the guest vocalists lifted Foster into the air or supported O’Hara through a handless cartwheel.
Following this was O’Hara singing “To Build a Home” from Jason Robert Brown’s “The Bridges of Madison County.” Introduced by the warm and pensive cello measure, O’Hara beautifully outlined the lyrics of Francesca’s journey into America with an initially-distanced observation that did not lack for emotional investment as these feelings built upon one another towards a huge outpouring of love and pride for the life she has built since.
In addition, from musical theatre was a “’90s Mega-Medley,” featuring some of the most notable pop songs of that decade such as TLC’s “Waterfalls,” All-4-One’s “I Swear,” Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love,” Hanson’s “Mmbop,” Areosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a thing,” and more.
Taking things a little further back to the ‘70s, Foster sang “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. This selection made for a gentle toast to love as Foster brought the most out of the affectionate lyrics. Continuing the tribute to the original Andrews and Burnett special, Foster also sang “Meantime” by Robert Allen and Al Stillman. Starting from a down-and-out bearing, Foster and orchestra built into a powerful message of resilience and perseverance, with the former delivering one of the most powerful belts one might have ever heard live.
Winding down the evening, Foster and O’Hara sang “Here’s to Life,” by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary. This reflective number made for a wonderfully-appropriate duet between two stars who have experienced similar sights in their respective artistic journeys.
Closing things out was a final medley, comprised of “Goodnight is Not Goodbye” from the Goldenberg and Berman musical “Ballroom,” “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together” from “The Carol Burnett Show,” and “So Long, Farewell” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” These numbers were treated with great warmth from the artists and orchestra, making for a touching conclusion to the night’s program. After the standing ovation, O’Hara, Foster, and orchestra encored with a heartfelt duet of “Till There Was You” from Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”
Friday’s concert had a plethora to enjoy from two of Broadway’s leading ladies, drawing from a vast body of works, brought to life by one of the nation’s most prominent orchestras. The comedic material between these songs also did much in taking the audience back to the past, with no lack of wit or punch, celebrating the original “Julie and Carol” concert as well as the more modern songs and shows which have been penned since.
The New York Pops will return to Carnegie Hall on February 9, 2024, for a centennial celebration of George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue.”