Cy Coleman's Best Is All Here 

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The Best Is Yet to Come
Music by Cy Coleman
Directed by David Zippel

Cy Coleman began his career as a classical music prodigy and was giving piano recitals at Carnegie Hall as a kid, but he soon abandoned this kind of music and started to work as a jazz pianist, leading the Cy Coleman Trio for a few years in nightclubs. This eventually led to another career as a songwriter with lyricist Carolyn Leigh, and their partnership yielded two songs that have become standards, "Witchcraft," which was a finger-snapping hit for Frank Sinatra, and "The Best Is Yet To Come," which is the title of this new revue of Coleman music at 59E59 Theaters (through July 3). Coleman really made his name and reputation on a succession of hard-edged Broadway musicals, beginning with the Lucille Ball vehicle Wildcat in 1960, moving on to the clever Patrick Dennis adaptation Little Me, and then on to his biggest success, Sweet Charity, where he collaborated with lyricist Dorothy Fields and director-choreographer Bob Fosse. He struggled through the 1970s with two troubled shows, Seesaw and On the Twentieth Century, but came back with hits in the late 80s, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies, and then one final success in 1997, The Life, before his death in 2004.

The Best Is Yet To Come gives us only snatches of Coleman's well-known Sweet Charity songs, so that "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" are wrapped in medleys with other Coleman material. This show, devised and directed by David Zippel, highlights some of Coleman's lesser-known songs, many of which had Zippel as their lyricist; some of these songs are even being given premieres in this revue. One thing that becomes clear right away is that Coleman is at his best and most characteristic with big, loud, city-folk songs where guys and dolls complain about each other; ballads weren't really Coleman's forte, though Billy Stritch pulls off the quieter "It Amazes Me" with appropriate tenderness. The show-stopper here, without question, is Lillias White's reprise of her star-making song from The Life, a number called "The Oldest Profession," where a too-seasoned hooker takes a load off her feet and amazes herself by tallying up the number of men she's serviced in her long career. White is the kind of explosive musical theater performer who seems capable of anything at any given moment, physically, emotionally, and vocally, and she puts over the true spirit of Coleman's work in every song she does here, doing splendidly with "Don't Ask a Lady" from Little Me, and bringing down the house with the rest of the white-gloved company on "Those Hands." Coleman was gritty, but he was not a pessimist; his songs shine with gutsy, belly-up-to-the-bar hope. If this means that a musical revue of his work suffers a bit from too much of a good thing, it also means that his career as a whole has a continuity that marks it as unmistakably his, as brassy as horns blown at midnight.

(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

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