Ask Kathleen Marshall about Leonard Bernstein’s impact on musical culture and the answer comes fast and furious, without a second’s hesitation.
“He was the first American to become a major symphony conductor at a time when all the conductors were European,” says the Broadway musical director. “He was the first American to conduct the New York Philharmonic, and the first American to conduct major symphonies around the world. And what he did through his talent, personality, charisma, and, most of all, musicianship, is to bring classical music to popular culture.”
Marshall, whose own works include spirited, Tony-winning revivals of Anything Goes and Bernstein’s own Wonderful Town, is helming the Kennedy Center’s production of Bernstein on Broadway this Friday in the Eisenhower Theatre.
The concert stars Broadway heavy-hitters Norm Lewis (Porgy and Bess), Laura Osnes (Cinderella), Santino Fontana (Cinderella), Matthew Hydzik (Side Show), Beth Malone (Fun Home), and Mikaela Bennett (The Golden Apple), as well “an ensemble of eight incredible Broadway singers and dancers,” a 40-piece orchestra, and The Choral Arts Society. It kicks off the Kennedy Center’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centennial.
“It’s a little bit like being a kid in a candy store because you know you have all these wonderful shows and all these wonderful songs to choose from,” says Marshall, taking a short break from rehearsal. “It’s a little of what songs do we think an audience wants to hear? But we’re also choosing some things that aren’t as familiar to them…. People forget the range of what he wrote — from something very classical like ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story to the sort of wacky ‘I Can Cook, Too’ from On the Town or ‘Conga’ from Wonderful Town. He could write soaring operatic duets and he could write these kind of crazy, kooky, novelty songs. It’s kind of unbelievable, you know, the breadth of his work.
“He wrote these incredibly successful and innovative Broadway shows at the same time,” she continues. “If he had just had his Broadway career, what remarkable life. And if he had just had his composing career outside of Broadway, what a remarkable life. And if he just had his conducting career, what a remarkable life. But to combine all of those into one man is really incredible.”
Bernstein on Broadway is Friday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org for a full rundown of the season’s Bernstein events.
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