In The Best Is Yet to Come, classic American songwriter Cy Coleman finally gets a show that reveals the full extent of his talent. With songs drawn from throughout Coleman’s career, all the way from 1958’s “It Amazes Me” (written with lyricist Carolyn Leigh) to “Never Enough” from 2001, The Best is exactly that. Six singers are onstage for most of the evening, including Billy Stritch on piano and a full swing band.
Coleman’s distinctive style combines the daring wit and wordplay of Cole Porter with the polyrhythms, blue notes, and tempo changes of jazz. His songs were favorites of Frank Sinatra, and here the balance of sweet and sour Broadway irony and big band romance that made Sinatra America’s singer is spread among the entire cast. Jason Graae is terrific as the prototypical Coleman male, pushed around by the women in his life. Even while dominated by Sally Mayes in a kinky duet about the role of pain in pleasure, he’s still capable of stunning, Bobby Darin-like bursts of pure virtuosic lyricism. Lillias White owned the number that Coleman wrote for her, “The Oldest Profession,” even pulling off the night’s most daring acting stunt by appearing to fall asleep towards the end of this huge epic of a song. Julia Murney was outstanding at expressing Coleman’s wry view of life, smiling and syncopating through the ups and downs of love while pulling off dancing transitions and stunning high notes. And David Burnham has some of the night’s most impressive solos.
The arrangements got the best out of the small orchestra as well, offering splendid chords from the horn section on such numbers as “It Amazes Me” and demonstrating how much Coleman learned from Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. The evening’s most ambitious re-working of Coleman’s music came in a medley. Beginning with three classics from his collaboration with lyricist Dorothy Fields – “It’s Not Where You Start,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” and “There’s Gotta Be Something Better” – the megamix proceeded to blast through “Hey There Good Times” before coming to earth again with “I’m Nothing Without You.” Overall, The Best Is Yet to Come more than lives up to its optimistic title.