New definition of joy: 85 uninterrupted minutes of my friend Cy Coleman’s songs at the 59E59 Theater called “The Best is Yet to Come.” The tiered stage in black and silver is an art deco version of a musical night club from an old Hollywood movie-RKO, not MGM. Jazzed up with New York hormones to resemble a proscenium production instead of a Soho cabaret, the Douglas W. Schmidt set literally swings into an anticipation of things to come, a perfect invitation for six cast members (all terrific) and eight musicians (including cast member Billy Stritch, on piano), performing 32 take-home Cy Coleman tunes (including the title song, which is performed twice). For almost an hour and a half of solid music without a cumbersome, tempo-slowing intermission, check your troubles at the door with Iris Adrian and get ready for bliss.
The stage is so small that nobody has to search for a follow spot. The entire cast is flawless, and each star lights up the place like a Wolf Pack bottle rocket on the Fourth of July. Concisely staged by talented lyricist David Zippel, who collaborated on the late, beloved Mr. Coleman on several scores, including the hugely successful City of Angels, this project gives everyone a chance to shine. The electrifying Lilias White has been stopping shows for years, so it is no surprise that she’s still doing it with “I’m Too Tired for the Oldest Profession,” from The Life. Milking Ira Gasman’s funny lyrics for all the cream in the dairy, she’s the tiredest ‘ho in the hood-tired of aching feet, climbing stairs, entertaining the Shriners, taking her clothes off with the lights on, haggling over the price and spending her weekends at Rikers Island… in fact, baby, she’s just plain tired. She is also hilarious.
Sexy Rachel York (legs for days) torches her way through “Come Summer,” perky Sally Mayes belts the great Dorothy Fields’ rocking lyrics to “Nobody Does it Like Me” (from Seesaw). Billy Stritch croons tenderly on “It Amazes Me,” with soulful lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, whose amazing repertoire is also fully served by Ms. White on “Don’t Ask a Lady What the Lady’s Done Before… Ask What the Lady’s Doin’ Now,” by Howard McGillin on “You Fascinate Me So,” and by David Burnham on the passionate “Witchcraft.” Mr. Zippel mercifully eschews medleys in favor of eleven o’clock numbers, but adds an element of surprise with a handful of new Cy Coleman collaborations premiered here for the first time. “Only the Rest of My Life” and “I’d Give the World,” from a musical about Napoleon and Josephine they were working on at the time of Mr. Coleman’s death, are revelations. “It Started with a Dream,” from a pink parfait of a show called Pamela’s First Musical (which deserves a full-scale production on Broadway, and which gives everyone a chance to join choral voices like picnic harmony on Sunday) is a classic already. And when you think of all the masterpieces they were forced to delete to bring the evening in under an hour and a half, you get some idea of how brilliant and prolific Mr. Coleman really was. Mr. Zippel believes in making us yell for more. With Cy Coleman, there is always more. He died too soon and I miss him a lot.
One caveat: a show of all music and no script can have a wearying effect. There are times when I longed for an anecdote or two. But in a mediocre season, be grateful for genius. Any celebration of Cy Coleman is a cause for cheer, and it’s a special kind of exhilaration to hear so many wonderful melodies and so many clever, sophisticated lyrics in one concentrated sitting. But you won’t be sitting long. You’ll be on your feet, joining the ovation for the happiest show in town.
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