Enticingly presented by Monumental Theatre Company as part of the Atlas Intersections Festival, Infinite Future: Bernstein’s Lasting Impact is an exciting and multi-dimensional theatrical event that truly represents the visionary and innovative spirit of Leonard Bernstein.
As a child growing up and watching Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” on television, I was thrilled to watch Bernstein’s highly-charged and theatrical method of conducting. Later in life, I came to love his work through the revivals of West Side Story, Wonderful Town, and On the Town on Broadway.
My memories of “Lenny” (as his friends called him) Bernstein came flooding back in this extremely creative one-hour mix of songs, witty and educational banter, and highly syncopated choreographic movement. Musical Direction/Piano by Marci Shegogue and Percussion by Rodrigo Posada aided immeasurably by adding instrumental luster to the five superb singers.
The evening of songs incorporated the innovations, influences, and sheer theatrical élan of Bernstein with flair and professionalism.
The urbane New York City essence that is Leonard Bernstein was evident throughout the production thanks to an excellent book by author Gretchen Midgley that manages to be both trenchant and informative but also evoke an informal air of whimsy and seemingly sly nonchalance.
Director Bridget Grace Sheaff brought out the skills of a very talented ensemble of five singers who beautifully portray the ebb and flow of this piece. Sheaff has incorporated this musical material in ways that are fresh, original and viscerally compelling.
The opening medley propelled the audience into the mood of the evening as Matt Hirsh and Nigel Rowe sang an electrifying cover of Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story followed by an energetic rendition of “Best of All Possible Worlds” from Bernstein’s Candide, and a simply stunning interpretation of the upbeat “Seasons of Love” from Jonathan Larson’s hit show Rent. (Several non-Bernstein songs were included to show the very probable influence of Maestro Bernstein’s liberating spirit on future songs and composers.)
Cast members Sarah Anne Sillers, Julieta Gozalo, and Allison Bradbury delivered beautiful renditions of songs from Wonderful Town and On the Town, two popular Bernstein musicals composed in collaboration with lyricist and book writers Betty Comden and Adolf Green.
A very moving rendition of “Gloria Tibi” from Bernstein’s chorale and symphonic piece Mass was movingly sung and was followed by Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s moving “Prayer” from the current hit show Come From Away.
A nod to Mr. Bernstein’s political views was given free rein in a fine interpretation of “Freedom of the Press” from Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock and a perfectly realized rendition of “Mr. Cladwell” from the Broadway musical and cult favorite Urinetown.
To send a musical and open-minded tribute to Bernstein’s somewhat fluid personal life (Bernstein was married with children but also gay), Nigel Rowe sang a very theatrically expressive yet humanly relatable rendition of Jerry Herman’s “A Little More Mascara” from the hit Broadway show La Cage Aux Folles. To continue with the theme of gender and sexual freedom, the production took a very comedic and experimental turn with singer Matt Hirsh singing Bernstein’s “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide.
A nice touch throughout the evening’s proceedings was the interactive and comfortable ease in which this very talented ensemble played off each other’s comments with amusing retorts and acerbic verbal comebacks. Another intriguing production device was to have the cast deliver bits and pieces of information about Bernstein’s life throughout the show.
Mr. Hirsh delivered an interpretation of Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story with resonance and sensitivity. Hirsh’s long, drawn-out coda accentuating the words “….the most beautiful word I ever heard—–Maria” with a hushed intensity was masterful. I adore Stephen Sondheim, but his lyrics here can be a bit treacly if not handled correctly. Hirsh transcended any easy romantic sentiment with a complex and fulfilling interpretation.
A marvelous current composer – Lin-Manuel Miranda – certainly seems to be influenced by Bernstein, and his pulsating song “Carnival De Barrio” from In the Heights was delivered with a lusty and earthy interpretation by Julieta Gozalo that was absolutely thrilling to listen to.
The show concluded with a very moving rendition of Bernstein and Sondheim’s classic song of supreme hope – “Somewhere” from West Side Story. A truly creative choice was taken when it was decided to have this tremendously gifted cast sing the song acapella. The evocative strains of Bernstein’s melody meshed perfectly with Sondheim’s lyrics to achieve an ethereally moving and transcendent tone.
Whether you are a millennial, a baby boomer or a centenarian, this superbly conceived and performed production will certainly help to ensure a lasting legacy and a secure place in your heart for the illustrious Leonard Bernstein.
This production is, indeed, a masterful tribute to a musical genius as we celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday. Kudos to one and all who contributed.
Running Time: One hour.
Infinite Future: Bernstein’s Lasting Impact played through Sunday, February 25th, 2018, at the Monumental Theatre Company performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future Monumental Theater Company productions, go online.
Ticket’s to Monumental Theatre Company’s next show, Brooklyn, are on sale now.