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The joy of live: ‘Tina + Friends’ at the Amph

BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Little Island is New York’s newest tourist and local attraction, a $260 million park built on a new lushly landscaped pier in Hudson River Park.

The pier, just off of W. 14th St., opened on May 21, and has drawn thousands of visitors to its flora, panoramic views and musical programs. The centerpiece of Little Island is the Amph, a 687-seat amphitheater overlooking a glistening river and stunning sunsets.

The program team at Little Island granted a three-year residency at the Amph to playwright and director Tina Landau. Landau has built a reputation for her large-scale, musical and ensemble-driven productions, which have appeared on Broadway, Off-Broadway and regionally. At the Amph, Landau will curate “After Hours with Tina Landau,” a cabaret series featuring “female composers, gender-nonconforming artists and more,” according to the Little Island Web site. Landau’s first program debuted June 26, entitled, “Tina + Friends: BYOB (Bring Your Own Beautiful).”

Maddie Pizzarelli, Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli performing at Tina Landau’s June 26 event at Little Island a.k.a. Pier 55. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

“The idea for this evening came from the simple impulse of wanting to gather friends together and celebrate the fact that, after fifteen months of separation and no live performance, we could be together again to make art and play music for you — a live audience,” Landau posted on the Little Island Web site about the initial program. “For most of the performers tonight, this will be the first time they’ve been able to do so in almost a year and half. What a gift, what a joy, that makes this occasion — I thought it deserved a party. And so I invited my friends — literally, people I know well and love. I thought to myself, ‘How beautiful…’ and then I mulled on the beauty of this magical island, and the sky, and the river — and then I thought about what else I consider beautiful and my answer was, above all else, Diversity: the vast and wondrous array of nature, and human proclivity, and skin colors, and bodies types, genders, ages, abilities, cultures, beliefs, religions, and so much more. And then I realized we’d be having our party on Pride Weekend!!, when we celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, of which I am a proud member.”

Jo Lampert. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

L.G.B.T.Q.+ pride was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Two Pride flags hung on the back fence, behind the musicians (keyboardist Kimberly Grigsby, trumpet player Tony Kadleck, guitarist Ann Klein, violinist Hiroko Taguchi, bassist George Farmer and drummer Dena Tauriello). As Landau asked each performer what was the beauty they found in the song being performed, several performers tied their song selection to the Pride theme. Kelvin Moon Loh, for instance, identified the gay rights struggle as the inspiration for his “beautiful,” the song “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of la Mancha.”

Nate Weida, Stephanie Hsu and Allan K. Washington. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

As host, Landau introduced Jessica Molaskey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Stephanie Hsu, Jason Danieley, Jon Michael Hill, Jo Lampert, Bill Irwin, Amber Iman, Tony Yazbeck, Shakina Nayfack and other friends. Landau revealed the theater production on which they met, worked together and became friends. Jodie Landau, however, she introduced as her nephew.

Jon Michael Hill. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

The evening’s repertoire included reinterpretations of theater music as well as covers of songs by John Lennon, Lesley Gore and Reggie Watts. Jon Michael Hill performed an original song. Bill Irwin performed a comedic tableau as a vaudevillian, and Tony Yazbeck and Jared Grimes performed a jaw-dropping song-and-tap routine. Many of the performers had performed in “The SpongeBob Musical,” and so the program ended with an ensemble performance of “Best Day Ever.”

Kelvin Moon Loh. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)
Amber Iman. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

Little Island promised and delivered big entertainment with “Tina + Friends.” An announcement about Landau’s next production on the pier will be published in the near future.

Set list:

“Gone at Last” – Jessica Molaskey, John Pizzarelli and Maddie Pizzarelli

“The Impossible Dream” – Kelvin Moon Loh

“Fear This Falling” – Stephanie Hsu, Allan K. Washington and Nate Weida

“You Don’t Own Me” – Stacey Sargeant, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Libby Winters

“All the Things You Are” – Jason Danieley

“Chosen” – Jon Michael Hill

“Wicked Game” – Jo Lampert

” A Song about Apples (Always Love Yourself)” – Jodie Landau with Ariadne Greif, Elisa Sutherland, Joy Tamayo and Kristin Young

“Rhyme and Time” – Bill Irwin

“Imagine” – Amber Iman

“Me and My Shadow” – Tony Yazbeck and Jared Grimes

“Rainbow Connection” – Shakina Nayfack

“Best Day Ever” – Stephanie Hsu, Allan K. Washington, Kelvin Moon Loh and others

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