By Adam Cohen
Photos: Stefan Cohen
As a kid, a grand aunt gave us tickets to the Young People’s Concerts at Lincoln Center. While these concerts were great shows that exposed me to a lot of classical music, they never made me want to be a musician or performer. Music Director Leslie Stifelman and Director/Choreographer Melissa Rae Mahon, Director and Choreographer, brilliantly and successfully inverted the formula at Carnegie Hall with Take the State with Broadway Stars on Saturday, April 18th.
Their noble mission packed the stage with a chorus of 18 singers and dancers, a group of teen performers, and Tony winner Jessie Mueller. Co-host Thomas Cabinass and Stifelman frankly laid out the game plan, if you want to be on Broadway you have to sing, dance, and act. And what better way to draw an audience in than the song “Hand Jive” from Grease – complete with the opportunity to learn the words and choreography. Every audience member was on their feet, doing the moves and also singing along to “We Go Together.”
Once you can dance, you’ve got to sing. Jessie Mueller led the way with a rendition of “Do-Re-Mi” from Sound of Music. If you want to inspire a generation of future Broadway performers, there is no talent more enthusiastic and vocally arresting than Ms. Mueller. Looking not much older than the teens of the Celia Cruz High School who assisted from the audience, Mueller’s energy and bubbly, and joy for performance personality is infectious.
Mahon introduced the audience to the concept of harmony through Jonathan Larsen’s “Seasons of Love” (Rent). The adults learned one line, while the kids took another. Dan Scully’s video projections and animations lent a hand with both lyrics and for those who can read music – the notes. Tamika Lawrence (If/Then) added the finishing touches with her glorious voice.
Ms. Mueller talked about creating the character of Carole King, while also introducing her as someone who’d performed at Carnegie Hall. She treated us with her winning chops with King’s “Beautiful.” Kids of all ages surrounded her for a loving rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend.”
The afternoon’s highlights included kids from the audience being asked to come on stage to learn some choreography from “Hairspray.” They then joined the entire cast and much of the audience in singing and dancing the just learned choreography to “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” The adults seemed just as excited as the kids to be on stage performing with spirit and care. The hall rang with the fairly tight production number.
“Hairspray” would have been a fitting conclusion and capped a glorious afternoon. But there was more, as Mueller along with her sister, Abby, and Haven Burton performed a little Les Miz, and the afternoon concluded with the cast marching through the audience singing.
The audience was treated to a really professional, well put together master class with Broadway talents in a beautiful, classical hall. The accessibility of the artists, their generosity both of spirit and talent, was infectious and made for a wonderful performance. My daughter, on the commute home, felt the afternoon was “awesome” wants more singing and dancing lessons and see “Hairspray” as soon as possible.