Celebrating the life and music of Broadway composer Cy Coleman, “It Started With a Dream” raised $1 million-plus for the 92nd Street Y. Coleman, who died in December, was an ardent supporter of the Y; he had appeared in several events there and originally planned to participate in Monday night’s all-star gala. Modestly scripted and staged, the concert packaged an impressive assemblage of theater veterans, many of whom starred in Coleman tuners. With little introductory flourish, the songs illustrated Coleman’s extraordinary pulse-racing gift and the sultry dynamics of his talent.
Neil Simon joined playwrights and lyricists Wendy Wasserstein, David Zippel and Sheldon Harnick in paying homage to the composer, reflecting upon his impressive Broadway legacy. Simon, who wrote the book for “Sweet Charity” and “Little Me,” recalled Coleman’s signature tempo and rhythm.
A generous sampling of Coleman milestones included tunes from “The Life,” “On the Twentieth Century” and “I Love My Wife.” Mike Burstyn, who replaced Jim Dale in the title role of “Barnum,” reprised the circusy hoopla of the big tent, while Robert Goulet went the pop route with the Coleman-Carolyn Leigh chart hit “Witchcraft.”
Lucie Arnaz, who starred in “They’re Playing Our Song” and the national company of “Seesaw,” sang “The Best Is Yet to Come,” an early song that houses Coleman’s infectious energy and turned out to be decidedly prophetic with regard to the man’s career.
Chita Rivera, who starred in the original national tour of “Sweet Charity,” reprised “Where Am I Going?” with stately grandeur, while Dee Hoty took the torch singer’s perch on the piano to confirm “No Man Left for Me,” a plaintive and positive commitment from “The Will Rogers Follies.”
Seductive plea from the dance hall hostesses “Big Spender” prefaced a “Charity” medley for Stephanie Pope Calley and Dana Moore, peppered with the right blend of spice and sizzle.
Someone should find a musical for Michele Lee, the vibrant star of Coleman’s “Seesaw,” a show that framed the last lyrics of Dorothy Fields. Lee recalled getting the finale from Coleman in a taxi on the way to the theater just one night before the show’s opening. Lee turned back the pages to 1973 and gave a knockout reprise of “I’m Way Ahead.” Attention Encores!: Here is a great Coleman score ripe for a reprise.
Elaine Stritch is adding “It Amazes Me” to her club act that bows at the Cafe Carlyle in the fall; the Broadway diva delivered a rendition marked by subtlety and true affection. (In his last appearance at Feinstein’s at the Regency, just a few weeks before his death, Coleman dedicated the song to the memory of Mabel Mercer.)
There are no fewer than nine Coleman musicals waiting in the wings. Tony winner Lilias White offered “Those Hands,” a plaintive preview from “In the Pocket,” with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Lyricist Zippel introduced another new project, uniting Tom Wopat and White for “It Started With a Dream” from tuner “Pamela’s First Musical.”
Pics of a young Coleman and subsequent career snaps summoned memories of the life in music of a profoundly gifted man. A closing film clip of Coleman as a cocktail pianist, picking a plum from the tree of life, said it all.