The core of the hourlong show from Osnes — who will star in the new Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella in 2013 — is composer-lyricist Yeston's 1991 song cycle December Songs, inspired by Franz Schubert's cycle Die Winterreise. The 10-song, 35-minute exploration will be book-ended with other numbers by the Tony-winning Yeston — among them "New Words," a cabaret staple by the writer known for Nine, Grand Hotel, Titanic, Phantom and Death Takes a Holiday.
Osnes, who was a Best Actress Tony Award nominee for Bonnie & Clyde, is in the hands of music director Fred Lassen, her conductor when she stepped into Lincoln Center Theater's South Pacific and for her recent turn as Maria in The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall. (Her Broadway appearances also include Grease and Anything Goes.) The all-Yeston program at the intimate club below Studio 54 features a quartet of other players, in addition to pianist Lassen.
It was Yeston himself who suggested the pairing of Osnes and December Songs. (Osnes met him when she appeared in a reading of his Off-Broadway musical drama Death Takes a Holiday.) She told Playbill.com that the December Songs experience "flexes new muscles" for her because she's playing "a very mature and solemn journey" — and it's rare to assume a dramatic character in a club setting.
In Schubert's Winterreise ("Winter Journey"), a young man wanders through the Austrian forest; in December Songs, it's a young woman in Central Park.
The range of the piece excites her, Osnes said, noting the work's hints of classical, legit-opera and (in the case of the song "My Grandmother's Love Letters") almost "folk." "I am thrilled that Laura has chosen to sing an evening of selections from my work," Yeston told Playbill.com on Nov. 26. "She is so gifted as a brilliant actress and singer, and her range is so wide — from comedy, to romance, to heartbreak, from pop to semi-classical. I think her show at 54 Below will be a wonderful journey, and in her rendition of the December Songs — accompanied by a quintet — she will make them utterly her own, and give them a unique and indelible stamp."
54 Below is at 254 W. 54th St., Cellar Level, next door to Studio 54.
The 54 Below cover charge is $35-$45, with a food and beverage minimum of $25. Performance times Laura Osnes Sings Maury Yeston are Nov. 27 at 8:30 PM; Nov. 28 at 8:30 PM; Nov. 29 at 8:30 PM; Nov. 30 at 8:30 PM and 11 PM; Dec. 1 at 8:30 PM.
Doors open at least an hour before show times. Check 54below.com for exact times.
Laura Osnes, Len Cariou, Leslie Uggams and Bob Stillman Preview 54 Below Concerts
December Songs was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its centenary season and introduced by Andrea Marcovicci at Weill Recital Hall. A piano and voice recording of Marcovicci's work is no longer widely available, though PS Classics released a French and English recording of it, performed by French chanteuse-actress Isabelle Georges. Harolyn Blackwell also recorded the cycle on a 1997 disc ("Strange Hurt"), which has been discontinued.
In 10 songs, Tony Award-winner Yeston (Nine, Titanic, Grand Hotel) tells a story of love lost, of the struggle to move on, and of the resilience of the human spirit, as PS Classics co-founder and producer Tommy Krasker billed it for his earlier CD.
At the time of its premiere in 1991, Yeston wrote, "Die Winterreise is the greatest song cycle ever written. It has a contemporaneity that never goes away, and what I hope to do is to create a modern equivalent, to paraphrase the ethos of Die Winterreise, with its ambivalence, its major/minor duality, and its natural images that are metaphors of the character's internal state."
In 2002, December Songs was reconceived as a ballet by Lynn Taylor Corbett and presented at The Carolina Ballet.