The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), founded by Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett, began its exhaustive and intensive probe of the massive song literature 30 years ago and, on March 26, at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, celebrated with a festive anniversary gala, billed as “30!” The singers were theater’s Tyne Daly, Mary Testa, and Gabriel Ebert, and classical music’s Mikaela Bennett and Theo Hoffman. Blier was at the Steinway and Barrett was on hand to help welcome the audience.
The theme was 30 and encompassed songs performed by NYFOS 30 years ago, written in the 1930s, penned 30 years ago, and composed when their creators were 30. Recalling NYFOS’ opening concert, at Greenwich House Music School on October 9, 1988, which considered settings of William Shakespeare, we heard the first song NYFOS ever performed, Ralph Vaughan Williams' “Orpheus with His Lute,” given a dulcet, bel canto rendition here by Hoffman. Soprano Bennett joined the baritone for a romantic “Embraceable You,” from the Gershwins’ “Girl Crazy,” which NYFOS explored in a concert version early in its existence. Blier interpolated a bit of Antonín Dvorák’s Humoresque Number Seven in G-flat Major into it as a coda.
Daly, the evening’s red-hot mama, offered Sophie Tucker number “I Don’t Want to Get Thin,” followed by a wistful “I Thought about You,” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer.
Bennett sang a steamy “Girls of Summer,” by Stephen Sondheim, and a sensitively-sculpted “Dream with Me,” virtually an art song, by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, cut from “Peter Pan.” Hoffman returned for a joyous “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” by Irving Berlin, with a cadenza near the end.
Testa delivered a sincere “Nice,” a firm dismissal with a sad subtext, by Flaherty and Ahrens, from “Lucky Stiff,” and a riotous “The Boy from ..,” Sondheim and Mary Rodgers’ tongue-twisting, breath-power-testing, very gay parody of “The Girl from Ipanema,” written for “The Mad Show.”
Ebert, on voice and guitar, and Blier, whistling and on piano, proffered Benjamin, Durham, Marcus, and Seller’s “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” complete with dramatic spoken verse and high head-tone ending. Ebert followed up, in his best Cockney, with Mr. Wormwood’s song from “Matilda,” “All I know I Learnt from Telly” (“the bigger the telly, the smarter the man”)which could be the theme song of the current White House occupantand led us in a bit of a sing-along.
Sweetly philosophizing, Testa probed Michael John LaChiusa’s “Heaven,” a song she feels will be around for a while. Daly brought the house down with a riveting, heart-stopping “Rose’s Turn,” by Styne and Sondheim, from “Gypsy,” and the quintet of singers closed with a memorably competitive “Anything You Can Do,” from Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” which, Blier reminded us, Ethel Merman sang, not only when it was new, but also in its 20th anniversary revival, at what he steadfastly called the New York State Theater, refusing, appropriately, to acknowledge its current objectionable name.
NYFOS returns to Merkin Concert Hall on April 24 for a further 30th anniversary celebration. Visit www.nyfos.org
for more information.