Few songwriter-composers can match Cy Coleman’s longevity. I first became aware of him by name when I saw City of Angels, but then realized I’d been loving his music since my high school’s production of Sweet Charity, and recalled that he’d written another of my favorite Broadway shows, On the Twentieth Century. The list goes on.
Now Coleman’s last major lyricist, David Zippel, has put together a revue that stretches from the composer’s beginnings in the ’40s to the final triumphs (and some obscure non-show tunes) of his later years. (Coleman died in 2004 at 75.)
Led by singer-pianist Billy Stritch, who created the arrangements, an excellent if at times overpowering band backs up Stritch and five singer-actors as they vamp and strut through more than 30 Coleman compositions, a handful of them stitched into medleys, all in a scant, delightful hour and a half.
This kind of revue lends itself to corn, and Zippel and Stritch indulge in big bowls of the yellow kernels, too much, at times, for my taste, and sometimes to the point where you think you’re on a cruise ship. But it’s really all about the music, which more than survives any incidental hokey choreography or mugging. David Burnham (Wicked, The Light in the Piazza) displays his clarified-butter voice in “I’ve Got Your Number.” Rachel York (who was in City of Angels) shines in the lovely “Come Summer.” Lillias White stops the show with a fabulously entertaining medley of “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” and “The Oldest Profession,” while Burnham and York prove, with the gorgeous “Only the Rest of My Life” – a song from a musical Coleman and Zippel were working on when the composer died – that Coleman was at the peak of his powers to the end of his days.
Another highlight is what may be my all-time favorite song by Coleman, “With Every Breath I Take” from City of Angels, sung here with a minimum of histrionics and a maximum of sensitivity by Sally Mayes. The only voice in the cast I didn’t love was that of Broadway veteran Howard McGillin, whose heavy vibrato resulted in a loss of both tone and power, though his striking duet with Mayes in “The Measure of Love” almost made up for it.
In his program notes, Zippel talks about “the dazzling depth and breadth of the body of work of this remarkable man.” Hear, hear.
The Best Is Yet to Come runs through July 3 at 59E59 Theaters, New York. Corniness aside, it’s the revue Cy Coleman’s music so richly deserves.