Man of Music

Stylish and elegant, The Best Is Yet to Come is a fitting tribute to the late Cy Coleman (he died in 2004 at 75). Coleman hit his stride in the 1960s, with shows like Little Me and Sweet Charity, and his last Broadway outing was The Life, in 1997. Along the way, with a variety of lyricists, he penned music to hits like On the Twentieth Century, The Will Rogers Follies, I Love My Wife, and City of Angels, not to mention pop standards like “Witchcraft.” David Zippel, Coleman’s lyricist for City of Angels, is the director for this savvy retrospective, which blends much of the composer’s most famous show tunes—“Hey, Look Me Over,” “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “It’s Not Where You Start”—with several entries from City of Angels and another Coleman-Zippel collaboration called N*, about Napoleon, which has apparently gone unproduced. There are scattered pop tunes from the late master’s oeuvre as well.

An eight-piece band inhabits the stage; Douglas W. Schmidt has backed them with a glittering silhouette of a harp at stage left, and a wall of ebonies and ivories at stage right. From upstage a staircase comes down, forking like an inverted Y on either side of the piano, sunk into a recess in the floor, where accompanist Billy Stritch conducts and plays. Three red roses in a glass vase suggest the elegance and simplicity of the evening (and are put to smart comic use as well).

There’s no narration, but the overall structure that Zippel employs is inventive. One number leads logically into another—with the actors conveying the emotions and relationships through the segues or the stage business at any given moment. Thus, Howard McGillin, on stage, sings “You Fascinate Me So” to Sally Mayes, Rachel York, and Lillias White. Establishing himself as a man and a player with only his carriage, inflections and smiles, McGillin at the end of the song tosses those roses to two of the women, and one into the audience, disappointing the third.

Later, after White sings “Don’t Ask a Lady,” David Burnham encounters her, there’s some byplay, and he sings “I’ve Got Your Number”—a nifty counterpoint. Establishing himself as a philanderer, he’s quickly subjected by White and York to “What You Don’t Know About Women” and pushed to the floor. (The song is from City of Angels, although it wasn’t one that York, who was in the original cast, got to deliver.) The battle-of-the-sexes undercurrent continues through the earlier part of the show, but the evening takes on deeper colors as it goes along.

The set makes for some awkwardness, however, as the steps limit choreographer Loren Lataro’s work—during “Those Hands,” a song paying tribute to Stritch, four performers sit on chairs, facing upstage, and basically danced with white-gloved hands.

Nonetheless, the musicianship is superb. Stritch not only conducts and occasionally sings (“It Amazes Me” and “Some Kind of Music”), but he participates drolly in the cast’s interactions.

White displays a warm vulnerability and a great belt, most notably when she recreates her show-stopper “ The Oldest Profession” from The Life, for which she won a Tony Award. The blond Mayes contributes a quotient of brassiness—“What I am is a broad,” she sings at one point—while still retaining a classy demeanor. York is a sultry sexpot, although she oversells herself at times to the point of seeming plastic. Burnham has a strong voice and delivers the standard, “Witchcraft,” strongly, with only a hint of Sinatra, who is so closely identified with it. McGillin, a stalwart Broadway star (he’s played the Phantom of the Opera longer than anyone), capitalizes on an ability to plumb the darker tones in “The Measure of Love,” a ballad about S&M from N*.

Zippel pays generous attention to the work he did with Coleman: four songs each from N* and City of Angels—although, to be fair, there are five from Little Me. But the selection leans heavily toward torch songs and more measured numbers, and the only bounce, until the final medley, comes in the title song from Little Me, sung delightfully by White and Stritch.

Unfortunately, that dearth of uptempo undermines York’s rendition of “Hey, Look Me Over,” introduced by Lucille Ball in Wildcat. One can applaud the ambition to make an audience hear a song in a different way, but in this case the song is taken too languidly. The brighter version would have been more welcome—as indeed, would anything from the wonderful Barnum score, which is ignored.

But those are quibbles. The final medley of “It’s Not Where You Start,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “Hey There, Good Times,” and “We’re Nothing Without You” puts high spirits in the air, and the evening as a whole affords a great deal of pleasure in some wonderful music, well performed.

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