One of the coolest ways to kick off summer is at 59E59 Theatres, with the new production of the the new light-hearted musical romp, The Best is Yet to Come. It is also about as classy as it gets. Co-starring Lillias White, Billy Stritch, Howard McGillan, David Burnham and newcomer Natascia Diaz (who was standing in for Sally Mayes until June 19). This mix of fun and sophistication celebrates the versatility of songwriter Cy Coleman who died in 2004. There's no script, and it's all really great songs performed by a super ensemble of pros. Nothing about this little show falls short.
Overflowing with high spots, the show gets right to the heart of this favorite New York composer who is best known for collaborations with the likes of: Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Dorothy Fields, Ira Gasman, Carolyn Leigh, Michael Stewart and David Zippel, the latter devising and directing the show. Musical direction and arrangements are by Mr. Stritch. Lorin Latarro is choreographer, with orchestrations by Don Sebesky.
The stage is a multi-tiered affair, with lots of art-deco style sparkles in black, white and silver and a sunken piano, all of which might recall Cafe Society is its heyday. It's all tasteful glitz right out of a bygone era, sung with powerhouse creative forces at work throughout. Bookended with the title song, in- between is a sweet blend of songs by one of the giants of jazz and popular music – all backed by an 8-piece band that lends incredible support. The emphasis here is mainly on popular songs from his shows, with more than a touch of swing from Coleman's prolific career that spanned over 70 years. Volumes can be written about Coleman. There's a lot to say when you've worked with the giants of the industry and received as many honors as he did. But, this is a small musical revue. And judging by audience reaction, it could run forever. For now, it's on East 59th Street and this observer suspects it might have a longer life after the scheduled closing date on July 3. Stay tuned.
Here, on the rather small stage, everyone repeatedly excels on their solos, duets and ensemble numbers. Lillias White, who won a Tony award for Coleman's The Life (written with Ira Gassman), is in great shape both as an actress and a power singer. Her odes to old hookers on "Never Met A Man I Didn't Like" (Comden & Green) and "The Oldest Profession" (Gershwin), are funny and poignant ditties wrapped in a campy character-study of a lady-of-the-night who has had enough. White has been a show-stopper for years, and she's still doing it with "I’m Too Tired For the Oldest Profession," from The Life, as she kvetches Ira Gasman’s silly lyrics for all their worth, as the worn out ‘ho with a head and foot ache from endless stairs, entertaining Shriner's, undressing with the lights on, bickering over the bucks and some ill-spent weekends at Rikers Island, etc.
Billy Stritch's brilliance stands out repeatedly at the piano, conducting the terrific swinging band and on his solos. In particular, he creates moments to remember with "It Amazes Me" and "Some Kind Of Music." Howard McGillan, Broadway's longtime Phantom, brings a suave sophistication to his songs that he sings tenderly, with a sense of mischief as on, "You Fascinate Me So" and "I'd Give the World," all beautifully realized with a retro style he nails to perfection. The ever-sexy Rachel York sizzles her way through "Come Summer" and a well-paced duet with David Burnham on "Only the Rest of My Life."
Mr. Burnham, not only one of Broadway's best looking young stars (Light In the Piazza, Wicked), has an expressive tenor that can melt a lyric as he did on several ensemble numbers. But he also positively captured the right Rat-Pack moodiness intended in the Sinatra-flavored "Witchcraft." New face, Natascia Diaz, replaced the temporarily absent Sally Mayes the night I caught the show. She was a revelation. A true professional, she sang her songs as if she had been singing them all her life, particularly standing out as she sauntered through "With Every Breath I Take."
In the end, with the exceptional cast and great musicianship by all, The Best is Yet to Come turns out a five-star winner on all counts. It is a show well worth seeing. And, Cy Coleman is a songwriter well worth celebrating. There is so much greatness in music and talent packed into this 85-minute show, it's exhilarating and shows what Coleman's genius is all about.
The Best Is Yet To Come runs at 59E59 Theaters through July 3. For more information: (212) 935-3300.