City Of Angels, Sweet Charity, Little Me, Seesaw, On The Twentieth Century, I Love My Wife, The Will Rogers Follies, Barnam. 

“Big Spender,” “It’s Not Where You Start,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better” “Hey, Look Me Over,” Witchcraft,” “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

What do these Broadway shows and hit songs have in common? The answer in two words is Cy Coleman, composer, songwriter, and jazz pianist extraordinaire.

Coleman’s songwriting catalog now forms the basis of The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music Of Cy Coleman, a new musical revue devised and directed by David Zippel (Coleman’s lyricist for City Of Angels), getting its world premiere at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre with an all-star cast of Broadway and off-Broadway headliners:  David Burnham (The Light In The Piazza, Wicked), Drama Desk Award nominee Jason Graae* (A Grand Night For Singing, Falsettos), Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Sally Mayes (She Loves Me, Urban Cowboy), Drama Desk Award nominee Julia Murney (The Wild Party, Wicked), Billy Stritch (Liza’s At The Palace, 42nd Street), and Tony and Drama Desk Award winner Lillias White (The Life, Dreamgirls).  Has any show in Rubicon history had this illustrious a cast?

Zippel’s concept is a simple one: Keep it simple.  No between song patter, no attempt to create a “plot.”  Just six great singers, a sensational pianist (Stritch doing quadruple duty as singer, accompanist, music supervisor, and musical arranger), and an eight-piece big band.  The result is a heavenly eighty-five minutes of memories and song.

The entire cast opens with the title tune, arguably Coleman’s best known, segwaying into Mayes’ humorous lament “Nobody Does It Like Me,” from Seesaw.  White and Murney join Mayes in the similarly themed “You Can Always Count On Me” (from City Of Angels), which features the classic Zippel lyric, “There’re lots of smirking motel clerks who call me ‘Mrs. Smith.’” Graae solos “You Fascinate Me So” to which White responds with “Don’t Ask A Lady,” two of Coleman’s lesser-known tunes, then it’s back to Coleman Broadway smashes “I’ve Got Your Number” (from Little Me), sung by Burham, which Mayes and Murney reply wittily to with “What You Don’t Know About Women” (from City Of Angels).

The Best Is Yet To Come features just about every musical rhythm and mood imaginable—jazzy, sultry, bluesy, bouncy, torchy, razzmatazzy …  You name it, there’s a song for every musical taste courtesy of Coleman and the eleven lyricists whose words he set to music.

Of all the cast, perhaps none owes more to Cy Coleman than the dynamite entertainer that is Lillias White, whose role as Sonja in The Life won her the awards trifecta: the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards.  White reprises Sonja’s signature number, “Oldest Profession,” singing and acting the hell out of it and earning herself a standing ovation halfway through the show.  (“Oldest Profession” is part of a two-song medley by White, following “Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like,” which gains all new meaning in this very un-Will Rogers-like context.)

Other highlights of this splendiferous evening include Mayes’ show stopping torcher “With Every Breath I Take” (from City Of Angels), Strich’s Sinatra-esque rendition of “Some Kind Of Music,” Murney’s high-kicking “Hey Look Me Over” (from Wildcat), Graae’s uber-romantic “Witchcraft,” Burnham’s tear-inducing “I’d Give The World,” and White’s snappy “Those Hands” (from Coleman’s last show, Like Jazz, with lyrics by the Bergmans).

The Best Is Yet To Come could not have been better cast, not only in terms of name value, but in the way each performer brings his or her own style and persona to the evening—Burnham’s leading man looks and charisma, Graae’s playful charm, Mayes’ warmth and class, Murney’s leggy beauty, Stritch’s lounge star allure, and White’s ball-of-fire oomph.  

Don Sebesky created the show’s sensational orchestrations. The cast has been elegantly costumed by Tony-winning William Ivey Long.  Douglas W. Schmidt has designed a gorgeous art-deco set, lit with imagination and pizzazz by Michael Gilliam. Jonathan Burke has created the show’s flawless sound design. There is a bit of nice choreography (including some fun “hand jive”) by the talented Lorin Latarro, though perhaps not as much as there might have been were most of the stage not taken up by the band and the grand.

Audience members may be surprised by how many of the evening’s songs are unfamiliar to them.  Though in general I preferred the performances of Coleman’s better known songs, The Best Is Yet To Come does make one aware of how much great (and varied) music Coleman wrote over the course of his more than half-century long career.

The Best Is Yet To Come is not only a great life philosophy, it’s a terrific musical evening (or matinee) and one not to be missed.

*Note: American Idol favorite Tom Lowe has taken over Graae’s role (as of July 21), adding his own brand of British good looks and sex appeal to the evening.

Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura.

–Steven Stanley
July 19, 2009
                                                                                                   Photos: Rod Lathim

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