The Best of Cy Coleman on Display on Off-Broadway

The word legend is almost too small of a term to describe Cy Coleman and his epic talent.  By the time he turned six, the Bronx native, born Seymour Kaufman, was considered a prodigy and had graced the stages of Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall.  The Cy Coleman Trio was an extremely popular club attraction and completed numerous recordings.  Cy could have become a maestro in either the classical or jazz scenes, but it was popular music and Broadway that reaped the benefits of his genius.  Never one to be put in box, Cy collaborated with some of the best lyricists in the history of American music to create classics that were featured in Hollywood, The Great White Way and the small screen and garnered Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards.   Cy was a vital creative force in the theatre world and was not one to let grass grow under his feet.  When Cy passed away at age 75 in 2004 from cardiac arrest, he was preparing for an engagement at a Manhattan club.

Six years after his death, the eastside welcomes a phenomenal piece of musical theatre that pays homage to a phenomenal man.  The Best Is Yet to Come: the Music of CY Coleman is currently playing at 59E59 Theatres and consists of standards, musical numbers and previously unreleased material from this extraordinary musician.  One the best elements of a musical is the music and lyrics; The Best Is Yet To Come showcases great music without the potential of boiler plate dialogue and trite choreography.  The show features well known songs like “Witchcraft,” “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” as well as music that the audience may not have known was part of Cy’s catalog. 

The cast is comprised of David Burnham, Sally Mayes, Howard McGillin, Billy Stritch (who is also the musical director and pianist), Lillias White and Rachel York, all of whom are Broadway veterans.  The band encompasses a brass, woodwind and percussion section along with a bass and piano.  The set is reminiscent of Saturday night at The Copa in its heyday – all that is missing are the huge clouds of cigarette smoke and drinks.  I have always loved a cabaret; this production superbly exceeded all of my expectations.  Although there was no dialogue or set changes, The Best Is Yet To Come followed the blueprint of a jukebox musical.  The numbers blend one into the other very well and tell the story of love, loss, desire and hope. The vocal arrangements are exquisite.  Together the performers form a jazz super group, sort of like Manhattan Transfer on steroids.  Separately the vocalists illuminate the stage.  Ladies will not just be swooning from David Burnham’s good looks, but from his golden voice.   “The Doodling Song” is one of my favorite Cy Coleman songs and York delivers it with oodles of pizzazz.  I could listen to her doodle anytime. Howard McGillin will always be the Phantom to me.  His voice is classic Broadway – rich, velvety with a wonderful timbre.  Sally Mayes is the perfect personification of a cabaret singer – sassy, sultry and full of energy.  Lillias White is a New York City treasure.  Every solo she sang became my new instant favorite.  White has a way of contorting chords until they become new notes on the musical scale.  Her voice is a true instrument.

When you are not singing along to the tunes you know, you will be toe-tapping and hip twisting to the rest.   For a man who was as versatile as he was gifted, I believe Coleman would be pleased with The Best Is Yet To Come.  Out of the tree of musical theatre it is a ripe, juicy plum.   The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman ends it limited engagement on July 3.  Before it closes get down to the eastside, buy a ticket and fasten your seatbelts; you are in for a swinging good time, man!

Photos:  Carol Rosegg