Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford has been developing her solo set “Lost in the Stars” for nearly 10 years, so when Lincoln Center asked her to be one of their stars for the Stars In Concert series Live From Lincoln Center she felt like it “was the culmination of all of that time spent with all of these incredible audiences over the years,” says Ashford. “Lost in the Stars was really a love letter to New York City and I felt like, when you have the opportunity to play the Appel Room, it’s also a great way to say thank you to New York.”
When her concert airs on PBS May 17, audiences will get to hear songs from her Broadway roles—including a special duet performance of “Move On” from Sunday in the Park With George with her Broadway co-star Jake Gyllenhaal—as well as her take on jazz standards, pop-rock classics, and more.
As always, Ashford brings her singular effervescence to the Lincoln Center show—and her go-big-or-go-home daring. With comedy, brass, and warmth, Ashford has made a name for herself as one of the great entertainers of this next generation of Broadway.
Ahead of the concert airing, Ashford—who won her Tony for You Can’t Take It With You and was also nominated for her turn in Kinky Boots—shared the personal stories behind four of the songs in her secret set list. (She even gives us a glimpse at clips from two of those songs below.)
“It’s You I Like” by Fred Rogers
“This year, Mr. Rogers became sort of cool and trendy, and I want to say thank God for that because he was the original ‘kindness is cool’ man. I had never sung this song before. I saw the Mr. Rogers documentary through a special screening that one of my best friends in the world, Greg Lynch, who is one of the VIP tour guides at Warner Brothers, brought me to. All of us were communally sobbing together as we were reminded that we were special and that we were loved and that we were liked, which is something that we just crave as children but we crave as adults. He was the preacher that we all dream of; he truly preached love in a way that seems impossible, but he did it. He was extremely inspiring to me. I also have a two-and-a-half-year-old so I’ve been watching a lot of PBS and Mr. Rogers. I thought, ‘How can I do a PBS special without acknowledging the grandfather of PBS?’
“Will Van Dyke created the arrangement—he’s a genius arranger and orchestrator. This was one that we were excited to tackle, but we were also trepidatious because it has the feel of a lullaby. We wanted it to feel still upbeat and childlike, but there’s an element of sophistication. The uke is heavy in it. The string section does a cameo with children’s instruments, which I thought was really fun and cheeky. We put ‘You Are Special’ in the middle as sort of a bridge song. Musically, it’s a little more complicated than you first think at first sound, which makes me love [Mr. Rogers] more.”
“Hand In My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard
“We are doing the karaoke version of ‘Hand In My Pocket.’ It’s my all-time favorite. The way that this version of the song came about was for Will’s birthday seven years ago, we had a surprise party for him and we did a surprise concert. All of his friends sang Alanis Morissette songs because he loves Alanis Morissette. We all did them in different ways and I chose ‘Hand In My Pocket’ and decided to do it as a sing-along because there are so many lyrics. It’s been such a magical audience participation treat over the years that I felt like why not try it with audiences at home? Usually, we do it a little less rock-y, but in the context of this show, it deserved more of a rock feel. We give you a more traditional version of Alanis Morissette, and then, spoiler alert, I play the kazoo.”
“Another Hundred People/Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” by Stephen Sondheim/Elton John and Bernie Taupin
“Stephen Sondheim is the ultimate genius when it comes to the art form of musical theatre, and not only is he a genius poet with language, but he's a genius poet with music. This song is the great marriage of the way that New York makes you feel with your words and with your soul. ‘Another Hundred People‘ has always captured my heart. When I wanted to move here when I was growing up in Denver, Colorado, and New York seemed like the end all-be all and I had all my dreams and hopes wrapped up in it, and then when I lived here and realized how hard it was to make it here and to live day to day here and how hard it is. The song captures both sides of the coin that is New York. We do the first stanza ‘Another Hundred People’ as a ballad with just piano and strings. The New York City skyline is behind us.
“‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ is one of my favorite New York City songs, as well. It is also a testament to how you get through New York. You don’t get through New York unless you have people that you love. You don’t get through New York unless you create a family here, and the friends that you have in New York City become your family. That song is the ultimate storyteller of that narrative.”
“Lost in the Stars” by Maxwell Anderson
“Since before I can remember, I loved Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli and Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters all of the great dames—the great gay icons really. A few of those great ladies have sung ‘Lost in the Stars’ and Judy Garland is one of them; I think she’s one of the first people I heard sing it. The lyrics are very impactful to me. All of us are questioning what’s bigger than us and what’s out there. I just think: What is faith without question? This is one of those songs that answers that. [The lyric] “And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away forgetting the promise that we all heard him say,” that’s my favorite line, ‘and we’re lost out here in the stars....’
“That’s the question I'm always asking is: Do I have faith and hope today? It's a choice and I have to choose yes every day. You wake up every morning and you choose to pick the light and the bright and the good and believe that the blessings are always on your side, even when the hard things are there. I would say that song is sort of going to be one of those songs for me for the rest of my life.”