Lovely up here: Kristin Chenoweth(Photo: © Joan Marcus)
Lovely up here: Kristin Chenoweth
(Photo: © Joan Marcus)
Last season, City Center Encores! offered a fabulous concert of numbers from shows that this indispensable musicals-in-concert series hopes to mount in the future. This season -- more specifically, yesterday and today -- Encores! is looking the other way with a terrific program of highlights of shows that it has presented over the past nine years, performed in almost every case by the marvelous singers, actors, and dancers who performed them in the full Encores! presentations.

Missing in action from the Sunday matinee of the City Center Encores! 10th Anniversary Bash was Christine Ebersole, scheduled to perform "To Keep My Love Alive" from Rodgers and Hart's A Connecticut Yankee and "The Gentleman is a Dope" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro last night and tonight but otherwise engaged yesterday afternoon as a cast member of Lincoln Center Theater's Dinner at Eight. Ebersole was missed -- but, given the wealth of talent gathered on the City Center stage, one couldn't feel terribly disappointed. The concert began with a rousing "Overture of Overtures" made up of themes from past Encores! shows, arranged and orchestrated by the brilliant Jonathan Tunick. Then the going got tough as Tyne Daly and Kerry O'Malley, in succession, offered vocally problematic renditions of "The Hostess With the Mostes'" from Call Me Madam (Irving Berlin) and "Knowing When to Leave" from Promises, Promises (Burt Bacharach-Hal David). Though Daly ultimately won the audience with her warmth and humor, some of the notes she produced were too unsteady for comfort; O'Malley, meanwhile, made unwise decisions as to which sections of her song should be belted and which should be floated in head voice.

Fortunately, the show got back on track courtesy of Kristin Chenoweth and David Elder, charming in "Hanging' Around With You" from the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band not only for their chemistry, their acting, and their singing but for their skilled performance of Jeff Calhoun's "fight" choreography. Next, Norm Lewis smoothly led Stanley Wayne Mathis, Rosalind Brown, Angela Robinson, J.D. Webster, Laurie Williamson, and ensemble through "This Is the Life" from Golden Boy (Charles Strouse-Lee Adams). Idina Menzel's persuasive rendition of "Easy to be Hard" from Hair (Galt MacDermot-James Rado-Gerome Ragni) was annoyingly compromised by poor sound engineering -- the only such problem of the afternoon. But then the great Philip Bosco took stage and, supported by Christopher Eaton Bailey, Danny Burstein, Carson Church, and Ian Knauer, scored a home run with "Little Tin Box" from Fiorello (Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick).

The climactic high note of Brent Barrett's gorgeous "Hey There" from The Pajama Game (Richard Adler-Jerry Ross) was so spectacular that the lady next to me spontaneously yelled "Wow!" and the audience erupted in one of the biggest ovations of the afternoon. It must have been hard to follow Barrett; happily, that job was given to the supremely talented and beauteous Melissa Errico, whose performance of "That's Him" by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash from One Touch of Venus -- sung while reclining languidly and sexily on a chaise -- created a sensation. The first half of the program was capped by Howard McGillin and ensemble in the very grand finale of Ziegfeld Follies of 1966; the number incorporates only a few measures of the beautiful "Word Without Music," but that was enough to keep the song running through my head for the entire length of the intermission.

"Rag" time:Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking(Photo: © Joan Marcus)
"Rag" time:
Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking
(Photo: © Joan Marcus)
Encores! musical director Rob Fisher and The Coffee Club Orchestra, whose members played beautifully throughout, began Act II with the reconstructed overture to St. Louis Woman (Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer). The absence of the major stars of the Encores! Carnival, Anne Hathaway and Brian Stokes Mitchell, was easy to get over as David Costabile -- who played Jacquot in the show -- offered a winsome "Love Makes the World Go 'Round" with an assist from the adorable puppets Carrot Top and Horrible Henry. (The audience loved it when the trio joked about the whereabouts of Hathaway and Mitchell.) Kristin Chenoweth returned and radiated joy to the upper reaches of the huge City Center auditorium in "Hurry! It's Love Up Here!" from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner). Patrick Wilson, recently free of his duties as star of Oklahoma!, brought not only his lovely voice but a welcome comic touch to "Artificial Flowers" from Bock and Harnick's Tenderloin. (This isn't the Bobby Darin version, folks!) The comic challenge duet of the concert's second half, "I Wish I Were In Love Again" from Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms, was in good hands -- namely, those of the cute and funny Christopher Fitzgerald and Jessica Stone. Stanley Wayne Mathis and chorus shone in the jaunty "Ridin' On the Moon" from St. Louis Woman. And then Donna Murphy brought the house down -- as is her wont -- with "One Hundred Easy Ways" from Wonderful Town (Bernstein-Comden-Green)

The top-drawer trio of Rebecca Luker, Sarah Uriarte Berry, and Debbie Gravitte had the time of their lives (and ours) in "Sing For Your Supper" from Rodgers and Hart's The Boys From Syracuse. (It was nice to hear the number with full orchestra, rather than the diminished forces deployed in the Roundabout Theatre Company's recent, misguided production of that show.) Next, one of the most thrilling moments in the history of the Encores! series was recreated as Howard McGillin (filling in for Stephen Bogardus), Steven Goldstein, Hugh Panaro, Patti Cohenour and the male ensemble filled the house with the gorgeous sounds of "Some Girl Is On Your Mind" from Sweet Adeline (Kern-Hammerstein). In order to follow that showstopper, nothing less was required than the reunion of Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking for "Nowadays"/"Hot Honey Rag" from the Encores! production of Chicago (which, of course, transferred to Broadway and is still running). A performance of "You're Just In Love" by Tyne Daly and Lewis Cleale couldn't help but seem anticlimactic after that (one had to wonder at the number's placement), but the concert ended with a heartfelt, full-company rendition of "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi as a tribute to the song's late co-lyricist, Adolph Green.

All in all, it was yet another Encores! event that I wouldn't have missed for the world. If you're in NYC and not otherwise engaged, you should seriously consider making the trip over to City Center and scoring a ticket for this evening's third and final performance.