There’s a sense of excitement in the air at New Brunswick, NJ’s State Theatre this Sunday April 14, 2018 afternoon because Seinfeld star Jason Alexander is here today to present his live show, The Broadway Boy, with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra!
The packed house applauds as the NJSO’s concertmaster arrives on stage to tune the orchestra. Then, even more applause ensues as today’s conductor, Bob Bernhardt, takes the podium. Bernhardt announces that the first half of this afternoon’s program will feature the NJSO performing pieces loosely related to today’s guest, Jason Alexander. He also announces that the second half will feature Mr. Alexander — known for his portrayal of George Costanza on TV’s Seinfeld; as Philip Stuckey in the film, Pretty Woman; and as a Tony award-winning Best Actor for his work in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway — in person on this very stage.
Dedicating the NJSO’s opening number to the infamous Seinfeld “puffy shirt episode,” Bernhardt and the orchestra perform Badelt’s Theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, with the conductor joking, “Remember: All pirate music is rated aargh!”
The percussion rumbles and the drums roll as the majestic brass, melodic woodwinds, and sawing swings propel this exciting piece ever forward. Dynamics build in intensity as listeners can clearly imagine the pirate ship — the Black Pearl — getting ever closer, the music piercing the air as the clipper cuts through sea-sprayed waves. Traces of chimes and a melodic flute accent the piece which sounds exceptionally crisp and clear in this sonically superior listening environment.
Following avid applause, Bernhardt announces the next piece, “Ase’s Death” from Peer Gynt Suite, as one which he dedicates to George’s fiancé on Seinfeld who “died from licking toxic envelopes.” On this beautiful composition by Grieg, the swelling of the strings is enhanced by the players’ use of vibrato to communicate the gripping tale, the slow, beautiful, and haunting melody reaching right into the hearts of all classical music lovers present.
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Changing the mood, Berhardt and the NJSO perform George M. Cohan Salute, a medley of four popular George M. Cohan tunes arranged by Hermann. Opening with “The Yankee Doodle Boy” — chosen because, on Seinfeld, George Costanza worked for The Yankees — the rousing melody has audience members tapping their toes to the famous “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” melody. Also including such other Cohan gems as “Harrigan,” “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” the crowd cheers for this audience pleaser and the entire NJSO responds by standing to take a bow.
Bernhardt reveals he selected the NJSO’s next piece, “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni — an opera, he explains, “that has to do with a pretty woman” — because of Jason Alexander’s role as Philip in the Julia Roberts’ film, Pretty Woman. The strings are featured on this delicate, lush intermezzo, their singing tone delighting the listeners in this beautiful and historic arts venue.
Berhardt and the orchestra conclude their portion of the program with a piece which Bernhardt jokes was written by a relatively unknown composer, “John Williams.” As lights shine around the stage and on the side walls of the theater, the orchestra performs a thrilling rendition of the Theme from Star Wars. When the trumpets’ famous fanfare echoes throughout the theater, twinkling stars appear on the backdrop behind the musicians. As they play, the group takes the audience on a magical ride through space sounding strong, focused, and “force”-ful before ending with a flourish!
During intermission, we take a moment to chat with one of the members of the NJSO, violinist Naomi Youngstein, who says about performing here at New Brunswick’s State Theatre, “Acoustically, this is an amazing hall!”
In reflecting about rehearsing with Jason Alexander in preparation for this afternoon’s performance, Youngstein reveals, “He’s really fun! The second he appeared at rehearsal, he was cracking jokes. He’s very bubbly and he also uses a lot of self-deprecating humor.”
Going on to declare, “Jason Alexander’s musical talent is not as well known as his acting, and he likes to do a lot of audience participation,” Youngstein also comments, “and his pianist, Tod Schroeder, is amazing.”
As Act II begins, Maestro Bernhardt and the NJSO return to the stage to introduce Mr. Alexander who opens his show by singing one of his own original compositions — a humorous ditty entitled, “It’s So Exciting For You.”
Dancing across the stage — his voice sounding resonant and full — Alexander croons this so-called “extremely humble song” to wild applause before announcing, “New Jersey is my home state — we put the ‘try’ in the ‘tri-state area!’”
Revealing that, growing up, he lived in Maplewood and, later, in Livingston, NJ, Alexander tells the audience about how he “grew up thinking Broadway was cool!” After relating that he saw The Music Man on Broadway at the age of five, Alexander performs a classic number from that show, “Ya Got Trouble.”
Strutting around the stage, Alexander transforms himself into the character of Professor Harold Hill to the audience’s sheer delight.
Telling his life story — while interspersing it with songs that have a connection to him — Alexander discloses that, at one point, he wanted to be a rock star like Billy Joel. Donning a black leather jacket, he performs a medley of Billy Joel songs featured in the Broadway musical, Movin’ Out.
Joined onstage by guest vocalist Noelle Berry and his pianist, Tod Schroeder — along with violinist Naomi Younstein and the rest of the NJSO — the musicians have a great time rocking out!
Their music fills the theater as Jason leads the audience through the tale of characters, Brenda and Eddie, on an orchestral version of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”
Admitting that, as a youngster, he also wanted to be a magician — even going so far as to attend a summer magic camp — Alexander acknowledges that seeing a Broadway show about magic changed his life. Here, Alexander sings a dynamic rendition of two songs from Pippin — “Magic to Do” and “Corner of the Sky” — complete with a live magic trick!
Following excited applause, Alexander introduces all of the performers who are here to accompany him on the stage today: singer Noelle Berry and pianist Todd Schroeder, in addition to Maestro Bob Bernhard and the NJSO. Then, after revealing that he went to Boston University as a “theater/directing major” but left for his Broadway debut at the age of 20, Alexander performs a medley of tunes from that show, Merrily We Roll Along.
He follows this up with one of the highlight performances of this afternoon’s program, an audience-participation version of Kander and Ebb’s “Ring Them Bells.” Explaining to the audience that he needs “seven unknown actors” to come up on to the stage, Alexander selects a group of mostly-willing participants from the audience. Attiring them in simple costumes and hanging bells around their necks, he has the characters follow his lead as he acts out their respective parts for them, asking them to ring their bells each time the song’s “ring them bells” chorus comes around. The hilarity continues as various characters are featured, all while Alexander dances and sings at rapid speed.
Following enormous applause for the actors, Alexander jokes with his pianist, “those were the most difficult people I’ve ever worked with.”
Changing the pace, Alexander dedicates his next song to his late father saying about the piece, “I heard my father’s voice in it,” before adding, “This is from me and my dad to you and anyone you have lost.” Here, Alexander performs William Finn’s “Anytime,” from Elegies, a beautiful uplifting ballad which reminds everyone who hears it that memories live on even after a loved one is lost.
Tears form in audience members’ eyes as Alexander touches them with his performance on this exceptional piece.
Revealing that after he won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical and worked in films like Pretty Woman and on a “TV show for nine years,” Alexander thought he would have a big enough name to enable him to play any role he wanted on Broadway. The only flaw in his plan was that producers didn’t agree, calling him “inappropriate” for many roles. As a result, in an effort to prove that — as he puts it — “producers aren’t always right, but the audience is never wrong,” Alexander performs a hilarious medley of “every song they ever said was inappropriate for me.”’
On this so-called “Inappropriate Medley,” Alexander performs melodies from Jesus Christ Supertar to Wicked, from Hamilton to Annie. At one point, he even puts on lipstick to perform an outrageous rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls!
Concluding with Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream,” Alexander gives the audience 200% until the very last note where he brings the entire crowd to its feet!
As audience members make their way out of the theater, we chat with several in attendance to get their reactions to this afternoon’s performance.
States Ira from East Brunswick, “Jason Alexander has tremendous charisma! He’s relaxed and in control at all times.”
Ed from Wyckoff comments, “Jason Alexander mixed music and laughter together,” noting, “and when you see him, you can’t help to see George from Seinfeld!”
Susan from Wyckoff concurs, adding, “This show was great fun! Plus this theater is beautiful,” revealing, “I really love the chandelier and balcony.”
We also chat with Philip from Jersey City, who got to perform onstage with Jason Alexander during the “Ring Those Bells” audience participation number.
Remarks Philip about his onstage experience, “It was great! I’m here today with my grandmother and I wanted to make it special for her!”
Says Philip’s grandmother, Sandy from Teaneck, about her grandson’s performance with Alexander, “It was great,” a statement which is echoed by her companion, Veronica from Teaneck, who says, “It was wonderful — especially because I’m a Seinfeld fan!”
We also chat with Lynn and Alexander, a couple from Farmingdale, who also participated on stage in the “Ring Those Bells” number. Remarks Lynn about Jason Alexander, “He is warm and engaging, and really I liked the show — so much so, that I wanted to be a part of it!” before dislosing, “I’ve never seen Seinfeld, but I’ve seen Jason Alexander perform in several Broadway shows.”
Lynn’s husband, Alexander, agrees, calling Jason Alexander, “an extraordinarily gracious person.”
Lorry, a classical music lover from Monroe Township, comments, “I loved the music played by the orchestra this afternoon,” explaining, “We’ve come to NJSO concerts forever. I’ve enjoyed all their conductors,” before adding, “and I loved Jason Alexander on Seinfeld. I’ve watched every episode!”
Lastly, we chat with Joan from Carteret who remarks, “Everything Jason Alexander has — he gave it. He is a real talent — he gives you everything in one package. He’s amazing; I would recommend this show to anyone!” before concluding, “My cheeks still hurt from smiling!”
To learn more about Jason Alexander, please click on imdb.com/jasonalexander. For more information on the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, please go to www.njsymphony.org. For more on upcoming concerts at New Brunswick, NJ’s State Theatre — including Bach’s Complete Brandenburgs featuring the NJSO on May 20, ET: The Extraterrestrial in Concert with the NJSO on June 3 , and Star Wars: A New Hope with the NJSO on November 25 — please go to statetheatrenj.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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