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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Leonard Bernstein’s New York: The celebration of a city immortalised through music
On the Town
(1944): New York, New York; Ya got me; Come up to my place; Lonely town; Some other time
Wonderful Town (1953): What a waste; A quiet girl; Wrong note rag; Story of my life; A little bit in love
West Side Story (1957): One hand, one heart; Balcony scene (Tonight)
Dawn Upshaw; Mandy Patinkin; Donna Murphy; Audra McDonald; Judy Blazer; Richard Muenz;
Orchestra of St.Luke’s/Eric Stern
Spoken contributions from Eric Stern; Harold Prince; Frank Rich; Jonathan Schwartz; Sono Osato; George Gaynes; Allyn Ann McLerie; Humphrey Burton
rec. various locations in New York
WARNER MUSIC VISION DVD 0630-17103-2 [55:00]

This DVD is short at just 55 minutes, and there are no ‘extras’ at all.  So it’s not particularly good value, retailing as it does at around £13.00 in the UK.  That said, it is entertaining and informative, with strong performances of some of the best songs from Leonard Bernstein’s ‘New York’ musicals, On the Town, Wonderful Town and West Side Story.  There is also some superb, if slightly tantalising, archive material, and some distinguished ‘talking heads’ to give personal witness accounts and historical/critical perspective.  These include Humphrey Burton, the author of the principal biography of the composer so far, music critic Jonathan Schwartz, producer Harold Prince, and the conductor of the music on the DVD, Eric Stern.
There are some irritating moments; after the opening ensemble, New York, New York from On the Town, we have one of those embarrassing ‘spontaneous’ scenes, as singers get together in Mandy Patinkin’s flat - he’s one of the singers - to rehearse their numbers.  Very ‘grass roots’ as one of them slightly mystifyingly describes it!  And then there’s the mandatory ‘back of the taxi’ interview, which has become another cliché.  It seeks to impart a sense of urgency and gravitas to the interviewee’s apparently impromptu thoughts, but just comes over as pretentious.
The singers are good, though.  Some were well known to me, such as Dawn Upshaw and Audra McDonald; but the others were new, though I’m certain they’re all distinguished US stage performers.  The women are all outstanding, particularly Judy Blazer, whose tracks are the highlights of the set for me.  She also has a fabulously expressive face, with huge, beautiful eyes.  Her version of one of Bernstein’s loveliest songs, Story of my Life from Wonderful Town, is really moving, and she talks interestingly about its content too.  Even so, why do directors feel the need to introduce voice-overs in the middle of a song like this? It’s so insensitive, when the music is ultimately the subject matter of the film.
Donna Murphy is splendid too, if not quite so compelling as Blazer.  Audra MacDonald sings two of Maria’s numbers from West Side Story, One Hand, One Heart and Tonight, but confusingly with two different Tonys, Richard Muenz in the first and Mandy Patinkin in the second.  Not to worry; McDonald is stunning, surprisingly saying in interview that she doesn’t expect to get asked to sing Maria on the stage.  Yes, she’s an African American, and Maria is supposed to be Puerto Rican; but that really shouldn’t matter a great deal, and I for one would love to see her in the part.   For now, we shall have to make do with these two ‘appetisers’.
Dawn Upshaw is a fine artist, and she brings a sense of authority to everything she does.  However, I don’t particularly enjoy her version of Lonely Town from On the Town.  It’s a powerfully emotional song, but she seems to rather overcook it. More likely, it just doesn’t really suit her - it is a man’s song in the show anyway. 
Talking of men, the two guys on this film are less impressive than their ladies.  Richard Muenz (a baritone) sings well enough, but is a little wooden, while Mandy Patinkin is a good stylist but has an unattractively soppy vocal tone for the gentler numbers, such as Some Other Time from On the Town or One hand, One Heart, where he partners McDonald, but is outshone by her.  I will commend, however, his lively version of that brilliant number Wrong Note Rag.
Personally, then, I’m thrilled at having been introduced to the work of Judy Blazer, an exceptional talent.  And for aficionados of the Broadway stage, this will be an enjoyable enough package, though most will eventually, I imagine, tire of the overwhelmingly reverential tone.
Gwyn Parry-Jones



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