Parlor-room style concerts appear to be making a comeback. For the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, Hudson Hall offered “To Lenny with Love.” The concert opened with famed flutist Eugenia Zukerman, the Artistic Director, playing a short solo Handel number, then introducing her daughter, soprano Arianna Zukerman.
Tenor Vale Rideout and baritone Bob McDonald joined Arianna with pianist Joy Schreier. The trio sang “New York, New York” from Bernstein’s On the Town (1944) with polished harmony. Arianna and Vale then sang “As Steals the Morn” from Handel’s L’Allegro il penseroso (1740). They blended well as they began the historical backdrop leading up to the 20th century.
In varied combos, they sang songs by Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, Bellini, and Gounod before they arrived at Bernstein. Schreier accompanied them with finesse. Arriving at Bernstein and Sondheim, Arianna sang “Piccola Serenata (1979), which Bernstein had written as a surprise for Karl Böhm’s birthday party. Rideout and McDonald then sang anguished “Agony” from Sondheim’s 1986 fairytale fable Into the Woods.
The happy trio then rolled out a medley of songs arranged by Lena Horne: “Cain’t Say No” (1943) and “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” (1953). This humorous interlude might have been milked for a couple of more laughs, yet it served to provide contrasting relief for two excerpts from Bernstein’s West Side Story (1957): Rideout singing “Tonight” and McDonald singing “Somewhere.”
The trio amiably concluded with “Hey Old Friend” from Merrily We Roll Along (1981) by Furth and Sondheim. This cheerful number was done with much panache and unity. There was a secret behind the unity. They were not just singing a song about being friends—they were in fact all friends of Arianna. Arianna had attended opera summer camp with Bob McDonald back in the day. She had also sung in taverns for a few glasses of wine with Vale Rideout when they first began singing the songs that would make their respective careers. And yes, Arianna hired Schreier to practice with her when Arianna landed her first operatic role. They were all real friends singing about friendship which lent a surprising authenticity beyond the staginess of the cheerful lyrics.
For Encore, Rideout stepped out to sing Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story. This, I must confess, is a song I’ve never much cared for, yet in the throat and mime of Rideout, I heard some subtle textures that persuaded me I had been wrong. This song when sung by a master, or at least by Rideout, is no longer corny. It’s a song he apparently “owns” beyond any audience’s expectation.
This was a pleasant evening of light romance, jocular mime, vocal delight, and bright piano that reminded us of recent American music that grew out of the great European tradition. With Eugenia Zuckerman as pilot for Hudson Hall, this ship appears ready to sail to ports both on and off the map.