Broadway Concert

They're Playing Our Song: 40th Anniversary Concert

Kelly Ostazeski
Imagine seeing the original leads, creative team, and some of the opening night orchestra on the anniversary of a classic Broadway musical's opening night...forty years later. Imagine being in an audience full of fans of this musical, as well as other industry professionals associated with this legendary musical. The energy and anticipation for what is about to unfold onstage is crazy.

On February 11, 1979, They're Playing Our Song opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre. On February 11, 2019, the 40th anniversary concert, presented by the Actors Fund, played for one night only at the Music Box Theatre (current home of Dear Evan Hansen), right next door. Original music director Larry Blank returned to conduct, and original costume designer Ann Roth designed dresses for star Lucie Arnaz for the anniversary performance.

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I was there. The only thing was - I'm not a lifelong fan of They're Playing Our Song. I'm ashamed to admit that I only knew of it because my favorite performer, Donna Murphy, made her Broadway debut in the show as a swing. I'd originally bought the ticket because I thought she'd be part of the show. This was also my second Actors Fund benefit concert; last year I was lucky enough to attend the 15th anniversary concert of Thoroughly Modern Millie, again with the original Broadway cast. That night was a dream come true for me, as I imagine this performance of They're Playing Our Song was for longtime fans of the show.

My perspective as an audience member was a little different then, since this reunion show as my first exposure to this witty book by Neil Simon, and incredible songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. The leads, Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, played roles meant for maybe 30-somethings, but there was nothing unbelievable about Klein's portrayal of serious (and successful) composer Vernon Gersch and Arnaz's performance as eccentric lyricist Sonia Walsk, even at their current ages. Forty years ago, this was a cute (although perhaps typical) love story for songwriters in their prime. Forty years later, maybe these two have never found the love that mattered, or the perfect match to their songwriting talents, until now. It made for an interesting dynamic, and also fun to imagine seeing the show on Broadway in 1979, maybe even with future stars Donna Murphy and Debbie Gravitte (who also appeared in this anniversary concert) in the chorus as Vernon and Sonia's alter egos.

Along with Debbie Gravitte, appearing as the "Greek Chorus"-type alter egos, were Ivy Austin and Housso Semon for Sonia, and Andrew Fitch, Hugh Panaro, and Hal Shane for Vernon.

The musical is about Vernon and Sonia's collaboration as songwriters that eventually turns to romance and is based on the real-life relationship between Hamlisch and Sager.

Highlights were Klein's performance of "Workin' It Out", both versions of "They're Playing My Song", "Just for Tonight", and Arnaz's show-stopping "I Still Believe in Love" - which earned her a standing ovation mid-performance. Every song was a show-stopper, though, with raucous applause after each one.

The actors carried scripts, which made sense, because both Vernon and Sonia are songwriters. Lucie Arnaz was clearly more comfortable with dialogue and hilariously, it was Robert Klein who missed a cue. Arnaz handled it perfectly, offered to sing her song again, and when Klein finally appeared on stage, she said, "No bathroom breaks until intermission!" The audience laughed, and Klein exited and re-entered in character. Even this "mistake" was cherished and well-received by this audience, which shows how loved this show truly is. This audience knew every word to the songs, every joke.

For this Broadway enthusiast who didn't know the show before, consider me converted. I am honored I was there to witness such a special performance of a beloved musical, and I'm proud of call myself a They're Playing Our Song fan, not just because my favorite star made her Broadway debut in it.

After I got out of the theatre, I looked into the show more, and it was really interesting to see all the stars who have appeared in They're Playing Our Song throughout its history (and not just on Broadway): Stockard Channing, Victor Garber, Ellen Greene, Lea Salonga, Jason Alexander, and Stephanie J. Block. Seth Rudetsky and Sutton Foster also appeared in Actors Fund benefit a few years ago.

I look forward to future reunion concerts presented by the Actors Fund - perhaps I will see old favorites I never got to see live, or experience new shows in the best possible way.

Broadway Princess Party

Kelly Ostazeski

Broadway's princesses have been traveling the country for a year now, after sold out engagements in Los Angeles and New York City, these talented singers have begun a tour. I have had the privilege of attending three of their concerts, the most recent of which was the holiday party on December 17 at Sony Hall in New York. I previously attended the concerts at 54 Below in June and New Jersey Performing Arts Center in September.



The Broadway Princess Party was created by Tony Nominee and star of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway, Laura Osnes, with musical director Benjamin Rauhala, and now features Grammy nominee Courtney Reed, original Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway, and Tony Nominee Susan Egan, original Belle on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, as well as the voice of Meg in the animated movie Hercules.

As a lifelong fan of Disney, princesses, and musicals, this concert sounded like a dream come true. Both concerts at 54Below in June sold out in less than an hour. When the princesses perform in New York City, there are often guest stars. Since the 54Below show happened on a Monday, Christy Altomare (star of Anastasia on Broadway), Liz Callaway (the singing voice of Anastasia in the animated film), Adam Jacobs (the original Aladdin on Broadway), Jeremy Jordan (Newsies), Corey Cott (Newsies), and Derek Klena (the original Dimitry in Anastasia on Broadway) were able to join the party.

The tour was joined by guest star Adam J. Levy, who sings the role of prince whenever the princesses want to do a duet. At Monday's concert at Sony Hall, he joined Reed in singing "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, and Osnes in singing "Love Is an Open Door" from Frozen.

Also on Monday in New York, Liz Callaway, Adam J. Levy, Corey Cott, and new guest princess Stephanie Styles joined. Styles will appear in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Kiss Me, Kate next year.

If you love Disney, doesn't it sound like the greatest night of your life to hear these iconic songs sung by incredible singers and sometimes the original performers? It truly doesn't get any better than Susan Egan singing "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules or "Home" from Beauty and the Beast. Or Liz Callaway singing "Once Upon a December" and "Journey to the Past" from Anastasia. (Although if you were lucky enough to attend the June concert at 54 Below, you would've heard the "Journey to the Past" duet by Callaway AND Christy Altomare, which was later released a single.) These two amazing singers are worth the price of admission alone; they sound exactly the same as they did in the movies in 1997.

Courtney Reed sings "These Palace Walls" from Aladdin, and treats us with a story about how Jasmine was always her favorite princess and it's a dream come true that she got to originate the role on Broadway. She also sings an incredible rendition of "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas and "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. At the holiday concert, instead of her Aladdin song, she sang "All I Want for Christmas is You".

Laura Osnes sings an incredible medley of songs from every musical version of Cinderella, including "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from the animated film, "In My Own Little Corner" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "On the Steps of the Palace" from Into the Woods, "Lavender's Blue" from Disney's live action movie, and more...all in one epic song.

Another medley was performed at the holiday concert: Susan Egan sang "Something There" from Beauty and the Beast, Osnes sang "Jingle Bells", and Reed sang "Jingle Bell Rock"...it sounds crazy, but somehow it worked.

Other highlights: Stephanie Styles's impression of Snow White while singing "Someday My Prince Will Come", Corey Cott and Laura Osnes singing "Something To Believe In" from Newsies, the three princesses singing "A Million Dreams" from The Greatest Showman and "Let It Go" as the finale, an incredible guest vocalist singing "Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog, Laura Osnes's power medley of every other princess they had to cut to make time for the Christmas songs (in which she plays Rapunzel, Mulan, Esmeralda, Pocahontas, Aurora, and Ariel all in one song), and Liz Callaway singing "My Grown Up Christmas List".

At every concert, they feature the winner of the Unleash Your Inner Princess contest, where they choose a guest vocalist to be the local princess and perform on stage. In New Jersey, a girl sang "How Far I'll Go" from Moana and at Monday's holiday concert, the winner sang "Almost There" from Princess & the Frog. Both girls were excellent. They also hand out prizes for anyone who comes dressed in cosplay - because who wouldn't want to attend a princess party as a princess?

If these talented vocalists are coming to your area in the near future, and if you love Disney at all, I recommend going. It's an incredible night of music and magic, especially for those who love princesses. The performances I attended were some of the theatrical highlights of my year, and I'm already looking forward to the next time I see them. The VIP meet and greet with the princesses is also worth it!