Audra McDonald and David Hyde Piercein Bravo Bernstein!(Photo © Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Audra McDonald and David Hyde Pierce
in Bravo Bernstein!
(Photo © Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
For someone who's been dead more than 13 years, Leonard Bernstein is having a pretty good week. A Broadway revival of Wonderful Town, the 1953 musical for which he composed the music, opened on Sunday to ecstatic reviews. And, last night, his songs were showcased in Bravo Bernstein!, a gala benefit for Musical Theatre Works.

Some among you may remember that last year's MTW gala was a reunion concert performance of Merrily We Roll Along. In contrast, Bravo Bernstein! was smaller in scale, more low-key, and more elegant than celebratory. (Among those in attendance were Bernstein's three children, collaborator Betty Comden, Adolph Green's widow Phyllis Newman and daughter Amanda Green.) Still, it was highly entertaining as a host of stars performed Bernstein's wonderful music.

Directed by Lonny Price, MTW's former artistic director and current resident director, the show had Jason Robert Brown as its musical director and conductor. There were a number of surprises among the song stack, which offered a good balance of ballads and uptempo numbers. The first two numbers set the tone for the evening: One might have guessed that an event such as Bravo Bernstein! would begin with the now-classic overture from Candide (it was played by a 27-piece orchestra, led by Brown). But who would have expected the evening's host, David Hyde Pierce, to lead the cast in "Rehearse!" from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Bernstein's 1976 flop about race relations and the White House?

As it turned out, that number provided an ideal starting point for the evening, introducing the participating stars in a humorous fashion. Pierce kept the festivities light, throwing off a number of amusing quips including one about Emily Skinner's name in the program being the only place you'd see her there that night. (Skinner didn't perform.) He had the audience laughing with a running gag about his always having wanted to play Bernardo in West Side Story even though that character doesn't have a solo song in the show. In response, he co-opted a number from one of the musical's other characters, performing Maria's "I Feel Pretty" in hilarious fashion.

Though Pierce was the evening's connecting thread, he never drew focus from the songs or the people who sang them; when Bernstein's music was being performed, it was always front and center. The first act included three numbers from Wonderful Town: "A Little Bit in Love" (glamorously sung by Audra McDonald), "One Hundred Easy Ways" (firmly delivered by Mary Testa), and "The Story of My Life" (cut from the show but given a thoroughly moving rendition by Judy Blazer). After Jessica Molaskey sang On the Town's "Some Other Time" to husband John Pizarrelli's guitar accompaniment, Sara Ramirez smoldered her way through "It's Gotta Be Bad to Be Good" as Jason Robert Brown accompanied her on the piano. The first act ended with two selections from West Side Story, a superbly sung "Maria" by David Miller (recently seen and heard on Broadway's in Baz Luhrmann's La Bohème) and "Tonight," romantically rendered by the husband-and-wife team of Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie.

Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieleyin Bravo Bernstein!(Photo © Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley
in Bravo Bernstein!
(Photo © Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Act II started with songs from On the Town. "New York, New York" was performed by John Paul Almon, Destan Owens, and Dan Sklar, while "I Can Cook, Too" -- originally assigned to to Emily Skinner -- had Rozz Moorehead strutting and belting through the double-entendre-laced song with great energy. (For her efforts, Moorehead received one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the evening.) Next, Michael Cerveris took the stage with "Simple Song" from Mass and gave it a simple but heartfelt rendition. Another selection from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue followed: the tricky rhythms and counterpoint of "Lud's Wedding," also known as "I Love My Wife," were handled beautifully by Kimberly JaJuan and Destan Owens (and a backup chorus featuring Almon, Moorehead, Sklar, and Nicole Van Giesen). Harolyn Blackwell gave a beautiful performance of the seldom-heard "Who Am I?" from Bernstein's Peter Pan (1950). This was followed a bit later by Betty Buckley's impassioned performance of "My House" from that same show, leading into "Take Care of This House" from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Between Blackwell and Buckley came Sara Ramirez and Audra McDonald in "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" from West Side Story; the combined voices of these two women, one a big-time belter and the other a glorious legit soprano, made this number one of the show's highlights. The show ended with Danieley and Blackwell recreating their roles from the 1997 Broadway revival of Candide as they led the entire company in a rich and stirring performance of the Candide finale, "Make Our Garden Grow."

At a running time of under two hours, Bravo Bernstein! was a compact show, but its mixture of rich music and wonderful talent made it a full evening in the most important sense.