The New York Pops celebrated its 31st birthday gala by honoring Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman for their three decades of writing music and lyrics for Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, the West End, movies, and TV. I snared a last-minute ticket and vicariously kvelled for Shaiman and Wittman, whose work I’ve watched and enjoyed from the beginning. It’s one thing to have your music recorded in the studio for a soundtrack album or original cast recording. It’s very cool to hear it coming out of a Broadway orchestra pit. But to get to witness a whole evening (well, 90 minutes) of a full orchestra playing your stuff at Carnegie Hall? Golden.
Some magic moments:
* the three gals who got famous playing the lead role of Tracy Turnblad — a curiously tan Marissa Jaret Winokur (Broadway), Nikki Blonsky (movie musical), and the now-svelte Ricki Lake (original John Waters movie) — belting out the opening number of Hairspray, “Good Morning, Baltimore”;
* Sophie von Haselberg reading a funny and loving poem that her mother, Bette Midler, wrote for Shaiman’s 50th birthday;
* Martin Short doing a lovely song called “Simply Second Nature” from the current London hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory;
* Capathia Jenkins reprising her hilarious and roof-raising number from Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me called “(Let a Big Black Lady) Stop the Show.”
Some version of that last phenomenon had already happened earlier in the show when Jenifer Lewis came out to deliver the 11 o’clock number from Hairspray, “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Lewis let it be known that when it was freshly written, Shaiman and Wittman asked her to record a demo of the song. “So I like to think they wrote it for me. Everybody who’s sung it since then thinks the same thing. But bitches: I. Sang. It. First.” She proceeded to sing the hell out of it. The audience stood up. Including me.
The show closed, of course, with the rousing anthem that closed Hairspray, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” with most of the original cast (Winokur, Clark Thorell, Corey Reynolds, Kerry Butler, Laura Bell Bundy, and Linda Hart), joined halfway by Wittman and Shaiman (above). I surprised myself by getting a little teary-eyed because, even out of its dramatic context, this catchy little pop romp still sneaks in its funky political punch, equivalent to the last speech in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: the world only spins forward.