Leonard Bernstein was one of the most talented and successful music legend in American history. To this day, many of his compositions are still performed at major Broadway musicals all over the world.
Last weekend, we got to witness The Best Of Bernstein’s Broadway show at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) in Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur City Centre. The intimate event was led by widely acclaimed conductor Teddy Abrams and the exquisite beltress Morgan James.
If the name Morgan James sounds familiar, that is because she has appeared in Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox YouTube videos numerous times. Check out her cover versions of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” if you haven’t already. The Julliard-graduate even has 2 studio albums to her name – “Hunter” and “Reckless Abandon”.
The memorable evening consisted of several selections of Bernstein’s popular body of work. They include “On the Town” (1944), “Peter Pan” (1950), “Candide” (1956), “West Side Story” (1957), and “MASS” (1971) throughout the 72-minute show. A 1949 piece title, “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs” was also included in the program.
Although we’re neither a hardcore lover of classical music, nor a musical theatre geek, Bernstein’s compositions are legendary and has the ability to appeal to a crowd that favours contemporary pop. Mr. Abrams and the orchestra began by performing the the overture from Bernstein’s most famous musical, “West Side Story”. Abrams’ energy, enthusiasm, and passion were evident for all to see all through the show.
Having said that, the impressive team of musicians faded into background whenever the stunning 36-year-old Broadway chanteuse steps into the centre stage. It was easy to fall under the spell of Ms James, who has a voice like an angel, and a very operatic powerhouse voice.
What we enjoyed about James and Abrams’ interpretation of the well-known classics from Bernstein’s songbook is their storytelling. The well-known “Tonight” from “West Side Story” is a reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet of how Tony of the Jets falls in love with Maria of the Sharks.
“On the Town”, which centre on three American sailors who encounter three women on a 24-hour shore leave during World War Two, was well represented. James took on “I Can Cook Too”, where she sings about Hildy’s list of talents (she brags about cooking) in an attempt to persuade Chip to ask her out on a date. While “Some Other Time”, the following song, laments that there isn’t enough time in a day for 2 lovers.
Other vocal highlights from the New York based soul singer include “Dream With Me” from “Peter Pan” (where the character Wendy sings about her dreams), the Candide aria, “Glitter And Be Gay” (James brought the house down with her powerful pipes), and the magical rendition of “Somewhere”.
Thanks to Abrams and James, together with the talented orchestra, “The Best Of Bernstein’s Broadway” was able to transport us to a different time and place.
For upcoming events, check out MPO’s official website here.