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Much has changed since legendary songwriting team Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart began writing nearly a century ago. However, their music has never sounded more current than it did in the hands of the young talents who graced New World Stages last Tuesday evening. The cast of the Off-Broadway charity gala We’ll Take Manhattan came through on its promise and then some, taking the island by storm with an astutely curated and artfully executed homage to the composer/lyricist duo.

The concert featured brand new jazz orchestrations for over twenty of Rodgers and Hart’s most famous songs. It only took until Broadway performer Hannah Elless’s sultry rendition of the classic tune “I Wish I Were in Love Again” for us to realize that we already were. Thanks to the cast and creative team’s efforts, the audience fell head over heels once again for these often redone but seldom reimagined musical theater gems.


Kirstie Maldonado

And how easy it was to fall in love with concert headliner Kirstie Maldonado. Though best known as the lead singer for the internationally acclaimed a cappella group PENTATONIX, the young powerhouse shines even more brightly on her own. Maldonado’s showstopping rendition of “Johnny One Note” called to mind the likes of Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice glided lithely across Rodgers’s impossible intervals, her lips articulated Hart’s twisting lyrics with precision, and her smile extended from stage right to stage left.

Maldonado was joined by an impressive array of Broadway’s most promising up-and-comers, each brining their own contemporary sensibilities to the beloved classics. Child Broadway star turned musical theater heartthrob Trevor McQueen appeared as a modern day Sinatra, charming the audience with his sharp suit and spot on performance of “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Once cast member Laura Dreyfuss showcased her flawless pop belting skills and acting chops with a heartbreaking take on “My Funny Valentine.” And of course we cannot forget New York newcomer Morgan Reynolds, whose bittersweet interpretation of “Spring Is Here” proved to be the most emotional moment of the evening.

The real star of the show, however, was music director Bryan Carter, who provided the concert’s fresh orchestrations, led the onstage jazz quintet, and even drummed his way up the New World Stages aisle during a jaw-dropping improvisation break. He reconfigured Rodgers’s classic chord progressions and breathed new life into the age-old songs while still respecting their integrity. Thanks to his expertise, the Rodgers and Hart canon has never sounded more contemporary.

The evening concluded with a red carpet reception featuring the musical stylings of string duo Caeli Smith and Mitchell Lyon as well as numerous celebrity guest appearances. Gala attendants included Drama Desk winner and Tony nominee Laura Osnes (Bonnie and Clyde, Cinderella), Broadway actor Kyle Dean Massey (Next to NormalPippin), and Tony-winning orchestrator Michael Starobin (Next to NormalSunday in the Park with George,If/Then).

All of the event’s proceeds will benefit Operation Smile, an international charity committed to providing reconstructive surgery and comprehensive medical care to children born with facial deformities. Since its 1982 founding, the organization has provided 220,000 free procedures and over 3.5 million comprehensive patient evaluations. Though the event is finished, Operation Smile is always accepting donations athttp://support.operationsmile.org/goto/ABroadwaySmile.

We’ll Take Manhattan marks the inaugural installment of what show producer and performer Caleb Ryan hopes will become an annual fixture on the Great White Way. “I’m overwhelmed by the support we received and hope to have an even bigger turnout for this wonderful organization next year,” said Ryan at the reception. “We’ve been tossing around new concert ideas all evening.” While next year’s theme is yet to be determined, we can rest assured this creative team will be giving us something to smile about.

Daniel Lee is a Pennsylvania farm-grown, New York-based playwright, lyricist, and music director. He is a Tisch School of the Arts alumnus and current member of the BMI Musical Theater Writer's Workshop.


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