Jason Graae, David Burnham, Billy Stritch,
Sally Mayes, Lillias White and Julia Murney
in The Best Is Yet to Come
(© Rod Lathim)
Jason Graae, David Burnham, Billy Stritch,
Sally Mayes, Lillias White and Julia Murney
in The Best Is Yet to Come
(© Rod Lathim)
Iconic composer Cy Coleman never wanted a revue of his work in his lifetime. "That's for after I'm gone," he once told his City of Angels lyricist David Zippel who had wanted to do just that. "Let's write something new!" Zippel honored his wishes, and Coleman continued writing new music until his death nearly five years ago at age 75. Now Zippel, who relates this story in his director's notes, gets his wish. The Best Is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman, which he conceived and directed, is receiving its world premiere at the Rubicon Theatre in a classy, joyful production.

Zippel has assembled an impressive array of talent for this 85-minute intermissionless show, and establishes very clear character types for each actor -- handsome leading man (David Burnham), comic character man (Jason Graae), Everywoman (Sally Mayes), worldly sophisticate (Julia Murney), and delicious diva (Lillias White). Also added into the mix is musical director and performer Billy Stritch, the renowned jazz and cabaret vocalist/pianist who was mentored by Coleman.

The snazzy group opening number, "The Best is Yet to Come," proves a prophetically true kick-off to an evening of multiple showstoppers and toppers. White earned herself an ecstatic mid-show standing ovation for her comically sassy portrayal of a well-used and worn-out pro who's getting too old for sex in the hilarious "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like." In contrast, Murney is a lovely study in simplicity in the plaintive "Come Summer." She also gets to strut her stuff in the lighthearted "Hey, Look Me Over/The Doodling Song." Mayes sells the look-on-the-bright-side spirit of losing in the bouncy "Nobody Does It Like Me," but has mixed success on the evening's big torch song, "With Every Breath I Take." While she excels in using her head voice, she tends to lose power in her lower register, and the range is wide in this City of Angels spotlight number.

The impish Graae gets to display his comic charms with the ladies in "You Fascinate Me So" and "What You Don't Know About Women," and casts a spell with "Witchcraft." Burnham exudes suave confidence in "I've Got Your Number," and later gets to the heart of longing and desire with his thrilling star turn in "I'd Give the World." Stritch gets playful with White in their "Little Me" duet, and amazes in his heartfelt solo, "It Amazes Me."

Douglas W. Schmidt's beautiful black, white and silver set is obviously inspired by the big band era, a time in which piano prodigy Coleman enjoyed early success before his long and storied Broadway career. The set is lovingly colorized by lighting designer Michael Gilliam to enhance emotional responses to the more than 20 presented songs that Coleman wrote with such collaborators as Carolyn Leigh, Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Zippel and others.

William Ivey Long's costumes add another layer of style and elegance, and Lorin Latarro's understated choreography fits each performer's abilities just right. Special kudos go to sound designer Jonathan Burke for achieving a wonderful level of clarity and audibility that allows the actors and the eight-piece band to sound natural at all levels and not distorted by technology. That's a welcome gift in a show that's all about the music.