MasterVoices, under the artistic direction of Tony Award winner Ted Sperling, returned to Carnegie Hall on Friday night for its 78th concert performance. MasterVoices, formerly known as the Collegiate Chorale, was founded in 1941 by the legendary choral conductor Robert Shaw; its repertoire includes choral masterpieces, operas in concert, operettas, and musical theatre.
Friday night’s production, Let 'Em Eat Cake, is little known today. It was created in 1933, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and book by George S. Kaufman and Morris Ryskind. The concert script was adapted by Laurence Mason. Ted Sperling conducted both the magnificent 150 MasteVoices singers and the Orchestra of St Luke’s; he also directed the production. The show satirizes the American political system, the Supreme Court, fascists, radicals, the League of Nations, fashion, and even baseball. Does all of this sound familiar? No wonder Mr. Sperling chose this musical to be presented, as we are going into the 2020 election process.
Let 'Em Eat Cake is a sequel to the Gershwins’ big hit musical of 1931, Of Thee I Sing, the first musical to have received a Pulitzer Prize; it ran for 441 performances on Broadway. Of Thee I Sing lampooned the American system of government and its corruption. John P. Wintergreen is running for President of the United States and runs on the “Love” platform. He wins by a landslide and he and Mary are to be married. There is a resolution about impeachment of the president but all ends happily.
The Gershwin team decided two years later to follow the success of Of Thee I Sing with a sequel-- Let 'Em Eat Cake. It had a run of only 89 performances, perhaps because it was not as bright and comforting as its predecessor. The country was facing a depression and there was rising fascism in Italy and Germany. Despite all the humor, the Country seemed to want something different.
The musical team brought many of the same characters from Of Thee I Sing into this sequel, and even some of the music. Wintergreen and his Vice President Throttlebottom lose the election and Tweedledee becomes the next president. Wintergreen and his fellow politicians decide to overthrow the government by a march on Washington and he becomes a dictator. They get the Supreme Court involved in a baseball game between the United States and the League of Nations. Throttlebottom is the umpire but there is a controversy and Throttlebottom is being sent to the guillotine along with several others. In the end, they are forgiven (they couldn’t get the guillotine to work) and Wintergreen decides not to run for president again.
The musical began with an exciting overture. There was a snare drum player in the center of the orchestra, a rather unusual location for percussion; piccolo, trumpets and other instruments joined in. The violins played counterpoint to the cellos on the other side of the conductor. Jazz music could be heard played by the trumpet.
The score includes snippets of familiar music such as the songs “Too Darn Hot,” "Hail Hail The Gang's All Here", "Of Thee I Sing", ”Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and other short pieces that sound familiar. Maestro Sperling drew a wonderful sound from the orchestra and the chorus was magnificent.
The Gershwins used the same musical team from Of Thee I Sing. Most of the characters and many of the musical motifs appear in Let 'Em Eat Cake. The musical score is all Gershwin. There are many songs in the show; some have a political side, some send up Gilbert and Sullivan, and others are just plain funny. A line in the title song is “Let the proletariat eat cake..good times are coming.”
"Mine", the well-known duet made popular by recordings of Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, was sung in this production by Bryce Pinkham as John P. Wintergreen, and Mikaela Bennett as his wife Mary, both of whom have beautiful well trained voices. The melody of "Mine" is especially lovely and the two artists harmonized beautifully.
Bryce Pinkham picked up on all the comedy of his character and exhibited a smooth manner. Mikaela Bennett, a recent Juilliard graduate, has a silver-toned soprano voice and moved easily from musical comedy up into the operatic stratosphere. She played her character as very much in charge.
Actor, singer, and director David Pittu played the role of Kruger, an agitator. His pleasing voice was accompanied by a strong stage presence. He played a rather sleazy character who became head of the army and agreed to a baseball game with the Supreme Court to get back his money.
Kevin Chamberlin played the role of the bungling Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom, whom no one in the White House ever seemed to recognize. He has a great presence on stage and every time he entered he drew laughs. He has diverse theatre credits to his name, including many musicals as well as film and tv.
Christopher Fitzgerald, nominated for several Tony and Drama desk awards, served as both the Narrator and Tweedledee, the new American president. However, later in the first act, Tweedledee is thrown out by Wintergreen.
The artists portraying cabinet members have all performed in Broadway musicals, and television and/or films-- Francis X. Gilhooley, Secretary of the Navy, played by Fred Applegate; Louis Lippman, Secretary of Agriculture, played by Lewis J. Sadlen; General Adam Snookfield played by Bill Buell; and Matthew Arnold Fulton as a newspaper magnate. All of their characterizations were different and humorous.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was played by Stephen Eisdorfer, Lieutenant by Edsel Romero, and Nursemaid by Madelyn Miyashita. Other groups of characters were the Supreme Court Justices, Diplomats, Interpreters, and fashion show models. All were totally wrapped up in their characters.
Congratulations to the great 150 members of the MasterVoices and to Ted Sperling and all the people who work with MasterVoices. Their sound in Stern Auditorium was warm, wonderful, and astounding to listen to. They all seemed to be caught up in the wonderful Gershwin songs and gave their all.
The audience had a good time and gave the group a long ovation. I’m looking forward to the next Master Singers program.
© meche kroop
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