We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Front Row:  Alex McKissick and Miles Mykkanen  --  Back Row: Nicolette Mavroleon, Lacey Jo Benter, Angela Vallone, Elliott Carlton Hines, Dan K. Kurland, Michael Chiarello
The Juilliard Vocal Arts Department is not just about opera, just in case you didn't know.  The talented artists who call that department home are equally adept at contemporary music, and we don't mean those tedious unmusical settings of awful poetry.  We mean lively American songs that relate to contemporary experience, the kind of songs that singers of lesser talent perform with (yikes!) amplification.  Not these artists!  Their glorious and finely trained voices just sang it out.

The songs were well curated to reflect the kinds of things we are interested in--love, fulfilled and frustrated, and life in our wonderful city in all its glory and occasionally loathsome complexity.  The black box theater was bare except for a quartet of cafe tables, chairs and two step ladders.  Jeanne Slater can be credited with some mighty fine directing and choreography. 

The ensemble got the evening off to a rip-roaring start.  We loved the manner in which they performed Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" from Company; the energy level was through the roof and conveyed all the excitement of life in the Big Apple.  "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" from John Kander and Fred Ebb's 70, Girls 70 likewise expressed the frantic nature of New York existence in a most charming way.

Tenors Miles Mykkanen and Alex McKissick were joined by baritone Elliott Carlton Hines for the delightful trio "One Track Mind" from Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia's Sweet Smell of Success.  Sopranos Nicolette Mavroleon and Angela Vallone joined voices with mezzo Lacey Jo Benter for a very funny rendition of "Forget About the Boy" from Thoroughly Modern Millie by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan.  The interactions were so well directed it felt like overhearing your friends.  What woman has not tried to console a broken-hearted BFF who was dumped by some guy!

The duets were equally inspired.  One could chuckle over the friendship between Mr. McKissick and Ms. Vallone as she tried to talk him out of making a fool of himself in "Coffee" from Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's I Love You Because.  The touching "What Do We Do It For?" from the same show was movingly performed by Ms. Benter and Mr. Mykkanen.

Solos were not neglected.  From Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, Ms. Mavroleon used her excellent voice to sing "It Won't be Long Now" and Mr. Hines used his fine baritone to sing the romantic "When I First Saw You" from Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's Dreamgirls.

On the funnier side, the marvelous Mr. Mykkanen was all over the stage with "The Life of the Party" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.  He truly IS the life of the party and the ensemble joining him for "Wild, Wild Party" seemed totally organic as if his performance had roused them.

Mr. McKissick's fine solo was the defensive "What Do I Need with Love" from Thoroughly Modern Millie; Ms. Benter's solo told a wonderful story about what women face in "Expectations of a Man" by Joathan Reid Gealt, but her story had a twist at the end.  Ms. Vallone sang the moving and satisfying "A Way Back to Then" from Jeff Bowen's [title of show].

There were other ensemble pieces that we will cherish long after the evening has passed: "West End Avenue" from Stephen Schwartz' The Magic Show  which struck very close to home (so to speak) and Sondheim's "What More Do I Need" from Saturday Night.  And from his Merrily We Roll Along the song "Our Time" closed the evening in fine style.  For these impressive artists, it truly is "their time".

Excellent accompaniment was provided by Musical Director Dan K. Kurland at the piano with Michael Chiarello on bass and Andrew Funcheon on drums.  By the end of the show we were grinning from ear to ear and suffused with good feelings.  So superb was this show that it could be transplanted intact to Broadway.  Now why didn't someone think of that!

© meche kroop

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