REVIEW: NPR’s Rob Kapilow’s engaging ‘What Makes It Great? The Songs of Leonard Bernstein’ hit all the right notes

NPR’s famous composer, conductor, and music commentator Rob Kapilow certainly knows his way around a baby grand piano.  Under soft lights and in front of a full house, he is once again ready to transform the way the audience hears and understands some classic tunes.

In honor of the legendary composer and playwright Leonard Bernstein and the centennial of his birth, Rob Kapilow took his popular, 22nd annual What Makes It Great series to Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, which is Bernstein’s alma mater on Friday, March 9 for one night only.  Celebrity Series of Boston presented What Makes it Great? with Rob Kapilow and Jessica Rivera:  The Songs of Leonard Bernstein featuring an array of legendary Broadway songs during Leonard Bernstein’s time, delving into its brilliant, emotional quality and style through its carefully selected musical notes. Part teacher, humorist, and historian, Rob Kapilow proved once again that this engaging series is as fascinating as ever.  Click here for more on What Makes it Great and here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston.

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Renowned soprano Jessica Rivera Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Calling on a few of Broadway’s most enchanting and classic love songs, Rob was accompanied by renowned soprano Jessica Rivera.  Adorned in a shimmering black dress, Jessica’s versatile, impressive vocals ranged from lighthearted to passionate yearning as Rob had Jessica peel back the layers of each song, revealing what makes each tune shine.  With humor and grace, Rob and Jessica also revealed what each song might have sounded like without its individuality.  What Makes It Great never fails as an eye-opening experience.

Delving into the musical atmosphere and history of Leonard Bernstein’s time, Rob chose a selection of powerful, yet dreamy classic Broadway songs reflective of this era while showing how they are also vastly ahead of their time.  From dreamy songs such as, A Little Bit in Love from Bernstein’s Wonderful Town to the high-spirited I Could Have Danced All Night from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to the powerful Somewhere from Bernstein’s West Side Story, Rob shows how the composer ties the musical elements together to enhance the listener’s musical experience.  For example, he describes how Leonard Bernstein’s wildly successful West Side Story is a perfect fusion of classical technique to popular theatre.

Evan Kinnane, a renowned Boston tenor, joined Rob and Jessica for a special stage performance of Tonight after Rob described what makes this song so special.  Full of passion and excitement, Evan and Jessica have a mesmerizing rapport and their marvelous blend of vocals demonstrates the song’s and Bernstein’s timeless appeal.

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NPR’s Rob Kapilow and his piano Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

After 22 years, Rob Kapilow continues to captivate audiences with his vast musical knowledge, sense of humor, and his careful analysis of what makes music such a rich, fulfilling experience.  Capping off the evening, Jessica Rivera poignantly sang Some Other Time from the Leonard Bernstein’s musical, On the Town, about how quickly time passes by.  It’s a fond farewell until next time.

Celebrity Series of Boston continues its stellar season with the 50th Anniversary of Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, acclaimed soprano and Broadway star Audra McDonald, Ira Glass, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

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