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‘Leonard Bernstein’s New York’ sparkles at St. Petersburg’s Freefall Theatre

REVIEW | The concert revue features favorites from the iconic composer.
"Leonard Bernstein's New York," a drive-in concert revue, is being performed at Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg.
"Leonard Bernstein's New York," a drive-in concert revue, is being performed at Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja ]
Published Apr. 7
Updated Apr. 7

ST. PETERSBURG — Freefall Theatre’s latest drive-in show takes viewers to New York City with the multimedia concert revue Leonard Bernstein’s New York.

Bernstein famously composed orchestral music and Broadway musicals, including West Side Story, On the Town and Wonderful Town, from which this show draws heavily. The selections speak to the city as Bernstein’s muse.

Conceived by Rob Fisher, the show includes numbers from the 1940s and ‘50s that feature lyrics by Bernstein collaborators Stephen Sondheim and duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Tidbits about these collaborations are included in the performance.

Guests tune in to the show on their vehicle’s FM radio. The broadcast is the ideal way to listen to the show and the way it was designed to be heard. Should guests choose to sit outside, they must wear a mask, bring their own chair and a portable FM radio, which can be provided by the theater.

Julia Rifino in "Leonard Bernstein's New York" at Freefall Theatre.
Julia Rifino in "Leonard Bernstein's New York" at Freefall Theatre. [ Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja ]

Before the show, the band led by musical director Michael Raabe plays jazzy Bernstein arrangements. Raabe is joined on keys by David Estevez, accompanied by David Pate (clarinet/tenor sax), Burt Rushing (drums/percussion) and Kenny Walker (bass). The band performs throughout the show and members frequently appear in masks on the screens surrounding the stage. It’s a neat way to enjoy live music.

Julia Rifino and Emanuel Carrero comprise the two-person show. They are both incredible singers and deliver songs with pizzazz. They have a strong chemistry and their voices blend beautifully.

The stage is sparse, so most of the visuals come on the screens, designed by artistic director Eric Davis, who also directed the show. There are lots of images of New York City, which emphasize the nostalgia of a time when Broadway shows practically defined the city.

Many of the songs celebrate the city, especially New York, New York from On the Town. It’s not the song Frank Sinatra made famous; rather, it includes the line “New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town.”

Rifino and Carrero captivate not only with their voices, but also with movement. One particularly entertaining number is Come Up to My Place (from On the Town), in which Rifino mimics driving a cab with Carrero as her passenger. He sits behind her and a cab is superimposed on them on the screens. When she hits the brakes, they lurch forward. It’s very effective.

Emanuel Carrero and Julia Rifino in "Leonard Bernstein's New York."
Emanuel Carrero and Julia Rifino in "Leonard Bernstein's New York." [ Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja ]

Fans of West Side Story will appreciate Carrero’s sublime rendition of Maria. Rifino’s sassy version of 100 Easy Ways (from Wonderful Town) makes it clear that the seemingly dated lyrics are rooted in feminism.

Emanuel Carrero in Freefall Theatre's "Leonard Bernstein's New York."
Emanuel Carrero in Freefall Theatre's "Leonard Bernstein's New York." [ Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja ]

What a Waste (from Wonderful Town) is a humorous number that depicts the ways New York City can be cruel and competitive for newcomers with aspirations.

Bernstein probably never imagined New York City without Broadway, which has been dark since the onset of the pandemic. But he would probably be pleased with Freefall’s production and its commitment to presenting live theater in the safest way possible.

If you go

“Leonard Bernstein’s New York” runs through May 9. Admission ranges from $75 to $99 per vehicle, with up to four occupants, or $35 for solo viewers. 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.