‘Late Night’ takes a spin through Leonard Bernstein's big brain

By Peter Dobrin - The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 22, 2018

Most families have their share of photos ready to show to visitors. Jamie Bernstein’s family album just happens to be more musical than most.

Lights down, soundtrack up: Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas jousting for elbow room while playing a four-hand “The Rite of Spring.” Bernstein’s voice on a piece of 78 rpm acetate, sending a message to Jerome Robbins about progress on a new work and apologizing for the sloppy playing. Here’s one of his favorite tunes, Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All,” performed live and quite movingly by pianist John Musto and soprano Amy Burton.

Jamie Bernstein summons forces musical and archival in Late Night With Leonard Bernstein, which made a one-night-only appearance (and ran not so late) Saturday at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall. The script by Bernstein’s daughter and George Steel (the show is produced by Copland House) isn’t linear biography or musicological investigation. More of a musical séance, it’s probably the most haimisch two hours (to borrow from the Yiddish for “homey”) anyone will spend in the presence of the composer-conductor-musical explainer this centenary year.

Jamie Bernstein calls it a “guided tour inside my father’s brain,” and what a brain it was. Jamie never quite comes out and says it, but Bernstein was one of the great musical synthesizers in a century of great synthesizers (he died in 1990). For this show, she has hung her story on the idea that inspiration often arrived at late-night parties with musicians and creative types, or through other moments of nocturnal instigation.

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Jamie Bernstein