It’s not often that Feinstein’s/54 Below – the iconic NYC supper club known as “Broadway’s living room” – offers a performance of chamber music. But the nightspot’s intimate space and beautiful historicizing design provided the perfect ambiance for the classical duo Opus Two (violinist William Terwilliger and pianist Andrew Cooperstock) and their tribute to legendary composers Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.
Featuring new arrangements by Broadway conductor Eric Stern, who served as the evening’s host, the concert was originally scheduled for 2020, in honor of Sondheim’s 90th birthday on March 22, but was postponed as a result of the pandemic. Though he’s now 91, it’s never too late to celebrate the extraordinary contributions of Sondheim (or Bernstein, with whom he collaborated on West Side Story) to musical theater and Broadway.
The focus was on the complex compositions and richness of the scores, which was evident in the mostly unsung set list and skillful execution of Stern’s specialized arrangements for two instruments. As required by the chamber format, Terwilliger and Cooperstock worked flawlessly together, while also spotlighting their individual mastery.
Stern introduced the musical selections and remained on stage, seated on a stool, throughout the show. His presence often distracted from the performers, with his overt physical responses to the music and very visible thumb twiddling, as did the digital projections on the stage-side screens; a printed program would have been much more effective and useful for the audience.
Opening with Bernstein, the duo performed a lively “Four Moments” from the 1956 operetta Candide, then were joined by Broadway actress and semi-operatic soprano Elena Shaddow for a themed pairing of “Two House Songs” (“My House” from Peter Pan and “Take Care of this House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), which highlighted her expressive warmth and unexpected vibrato. The musicians then transitioned into the works of Sondheim with the West Side Story fan favorite “Somewhere” (music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim, arrangement by Raimundo Penaforte).
Shaddow returned for “I Remember” from Sondheim’s short musical film Evening Primrose, written for the TV anthology series ABC Stage 67 in 1966, which didn’t quite capture the surreal mood of the department-store mannequin romance. The concert concluded with Opus Two’s exquisite performance of four pieces from A Little Night Music (“Night Waltz,” “You Must Meet My Wife,” “A Weekend in the Country,” and the preeminent “Send in the Clowns”), delivering an affecting synthesis of the classic chamber and Broadway traditions.
If you missed the one-night-only appearance of Opus Two, you can purchase or listen to their recordings online, including their most recent release of Stephen Sondheim A Little Night Music: Suite for Violin and Piano.
Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes, without intermission.
Opus Two Celebrates Sondheim & Bernstein played on Tuesday, November 23, 7 pm, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC.