Reinventing the Classics: The Arranger and Performers of PBS’ “An Evening with Lerner and Loewe” Talk About a New Approach to the Duo’s Broadway Standards

“There are many composers whose music can be transformed in different ways,” American Pops Orchestra arranger and conductor Luke Frazier said during a TCA press conference to promote the PBS special An Evening with Lerner and Loewe – Broadway in Concert. “What's interesting and I hope that this show points out to everyone is that this isn't just about the original cast album versions of pieces. There are some of those in here with the modified orchestration and instrumentation. But what we have chosen to do with each of these performances, number one, cast against type, which I am very proud of, and we really made a thoughtful approach to that. Also, it really is the versatility and flexibility of the music. And while not specifically unique to Lerner and Loewe, there is a very rare pool of composers and lyricists that you can do that with.”

(Kevin Parisi)

(Kevin Parisi)

In the new concert special, airing tonight on PBS stations across the country, classic songs from shows like My Fair Lady, Camelot, Gigi, and Brigadoon are reinterpreted and performed by some of Broadway’s biggest stars. “My Fair Lady was my gateway into Lerner and Loewe,” Jose Llana shared, who has starred in The King & I and Rent. “I think ‘On the Street Where You Live’ is kind of like baritone 101 in school. You learn five songs, and one of them is always On the Street Where You Live.’” Taking part in the concert special was not only a treat to perform in, but also to watch the other performers. “To see the spin that Luke had put on all these songs and the different kind of voices and textures, that some of these songs that I had heard and were familiar with and to hear them in a completely new way was really, really exciting beyond the songs that I was just responsible for. It was just really, really cool.”

“I was terrified,” Tony-nominee Jenn Colella confessed, best-known for her performance in Come From Away. “When I got the call to do it, I thought, Lerner and Loewe, that doesn't feel like a fit for me. I felt very nervous. It wasn't until I spoke with Luke and he assured me that they wanted my voice, to try something different, we were going to do a sexy Sinatra/Colella version of ‘Could Have Danced All Night’ that I let my fear subside and trusted that they truly wanted my own stamp and leaped in this way that felt new and exciting. I am so glad I did. I was extraordinarily daunted, and then I have a newfound sense of confidence now after years in this business that I did not have because Luke gave me this opportunity. It's one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had. And now this song, I am using in my own show because it's really touched my heart and helped me grow as an artist in a way that I never expected.”

For Aisha Jackson, whose work includes Disney’s Frozen on Broadway and the upcoming Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time, the concert gave her the opportunity to perform Lerner and Loewe for the first time. “It was really cool and awesome for [Luke] to approach me for these songs that I can definitely sing, but I have never been given the chance to explore. So it was really cool to look at these different versions, say, ‘Oh, okay. Cool. I can sing this my way,’ and do it a little bit differently, but also watching Julie Andrews sing it and being like, ‘Oh, yeah, that's classic.’ And being able to look at these legends do it and create my own version of it. And ‘If Ever I Would Leave You,’ knowing that Nancy Wilson and Aretha Franklin were singing these Lerner and Loewe songs. It is beautiful to see the versatility and variety in the performers that performed their music. That was really fun, and it was an introduction to Lerner and Loewe by doing this concert with APO. I am very happy to have that opportunity.”

“If Ever I Would Leave You” is a special song for Michael Maliakel, a lifelong Robert Goulet fan currently playing the title character in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. “Walking into this beautiful space and hearing Aisha Jackson put her spin on this song, I never need to hear Robert Goulet sing it ever again,” Michael shared. “It was just extraordinary… The way Luke's given us this space to breathe new life into the songs and put our own spins on them, it's like a whole new breath of fresh air. And for these songs to live again and hopefully resonate with a different audience that may not otherwise have had an interest or pull or attraction to them, I think that's so important. I think that's crucial to the advancement of this repertoire.”

You can see Jenn Colella, Aisha Jackson, Jose Llana, Michael Maliakel, and additional performers reinterpret classic songs written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe tonight on PBS. Check local listings for specific timings.