Leonard Bernstein was America’s pre-eminent composer and conductor. In truth, he was the world’s composer.
His genius and passions spread the whole world over—from “Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers,” which was commissioned for the opening of the Kennedy Center, to operas (short, “Trouble in Tahiti,” to long, the sequel: “A Quiet Place”), his dramatic composition “Symphony No. 2: The Age of Anxiety” and the music for “Fancy Free” for a ballet by Jerome Robbins.
“Fancy Free” was so spirited that it inspired Bernstein’s foray into collaboration on Broadway and would eventually turn into “On the Town,” the classic Great White Way musical about three sailors on shore leave in New York.
Songs and music and compositions by Bernstein and his great contributions to Broadway kick off the year-long international centennial celebration of Bernstein now at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater with “Bernstein on Broadway,” in which the composer’s contribution to American musical theater is on full display.
“Bernstein on Broadway” is a one-night only presentation, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall, with musical direction by Rob Fisher. Featured performers include Mikaela Bennett (“The Golden Apple”), Santino Fontana (“Act One”), Matthew Hydzik, (from the Kennedy Center’s “Side Show”), Laura Osnes (“Cinderella”).
Not only did Bernstein do “Fancy Free” and its re-appearance as a major Broadway musical, “On the Town” also became a classic MGM musical, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Bernstein’s “Candide,” based on Voltaire’s slight and cynical tome of the 18th century, was not a big hit when it first appeared on Broadway, but it has become a classic as a recording and is consistently staged by both theater and opera companies — most recently, in Washington by the Shakespeare Theatre Company directed by Mary Zimmerman in 2010. In fact, “Candide” is a part of the Washington National Opera’s season this spring.
But Bernstein’s most enduring and popular work is the score for “West Side Story” with a remarkable song list.
“Bernstein on Broadway” will have a sampling from all of these musicals on a program of nearly 20 numbers, including “New York, New York,” the great opening from “On The Town,” “Mambo” from West Side Story,” the lyrical, soaring “Tonight” from West Side Story.”
As a nod to the enduring arts venue on the Potomac River, there will also be a selection from “Mass.”
The program will feature a 40-piece orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, which adds to 75 performers on stage.