Todd Ellison has stepped into Marvin Hamlisch s shoes for Saturday s York Symphony Orchestra s concert.
Todd Ellison has stepped into Marvin Hamlisch s shoes for Saturday s York Symphony Orchestra s concert. (SUBMITTED)
Todd Ellison got power back in his Soho home Nov. 3 - more than five days after Hurricane Sandy tore through New York City.

"We have nothing to complain about at all," he said during a Nov. 5 phone interview.

His gas wasn't shut off, so he was able to cook hot meals. While mass transit was down, he was able to walk to work. Broadway lights came back on Oct. 31, and rehearsals for the revival of "Annie" were back on track. Ellison serves as musical director for the show.

Ellison was reminded how lucky he was each night as he left bright, festive rehearsals and walked along pitch-black city streets.

But, according to the showbiz cliché, the show must go on. And it did. The classic musical about a redheaded orphan - a year and a half in the making - opened last week.

Ellison will also ensure that York Symphony Orchestra's new pop series, which was in jeopardy this summer, goes on this weekend. He was the one person Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center CEO Ken Wesler knew could fill in for musical legend Marvin Hamlisch.

In February, Hamlisch, a composer and lyricist who earned almost every major arts award, signed on to conduct YSO's pops series.

His Aug. 8 death stunned the world and left the YSO scrambling. The board decided to move forward with the two concerts Hamlisch planned and, at the end of August, named Ellison the new pops conductor.

For Ellison, who was friends with Hamlisch, it's an honor.

"A pops concert - as opposed to the classical shows - is a lighter evening," Ellison said. "The focus is on ... entertainment. I think it's a great undertaking. We're doing the concert exactly the way (Hamlisch) set it up. He wanted (York) to hear these Gershwin pieces."

The show, titled "Tribute to Gershwin," will feature the music of another music man Ellison said died too young - George Gershwin. Chicago pianist and Gershwin aficionado Kevin Cole will perform arrangements of "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris" with YSO. Ellison added that Cole performed the songs around the country with Hamlisch.

"He's going to do a little Marvin tribute at the concert as well," Ellison said.

Hamlisch and Ellison met years ago when they were introduced by a mutual friend who thought they had the same temperament. When he was in the mood to take in a show, Hamlisch asked Ellison, who worked on "Spamalot" and "42nd Street," for recommendations. The only thing they clashed over was baseball, Ellison remembered with a chuckle. He roots for the Boston Red Sox, while Hamlisch was a die-hard New York Yankees fan.

The friendship led to a 2010 collaboration on a musical based on "The Nutty Professor." Jerry Lewis directed the show, pop star Rupert Holmes wrote the lyrics and Hamlisch composed the score for the musical, which would be his last.

Ellison said that Hamlisch was unable to attend rehearsals in Nashville, Tenn., during the spring. He died days after its debut.

"He was so excited to hear the audience's reaction to the songs," Ellison said. "Marvin's stuff is so infectious and accessible. He never got to see (the show), but he heard great reports of it."

Ellison said he hopes to bring "The Nutty Professor" to Broadway soon. But through the spring, he'll be busy with "Annie."

He said the YSO pops concerts - this weekend and "From Hollywood to Broadway" May 4 - will provide a welcome outlet to visit a new place and meet new people.

"In a way, I think it's a little gift from Marvin," Ellison said. "He's given me this opportunity. He never said 'no' to anybody. He was constantly on the go. He loved that life and being able to share music with all those places. We're going to continue ... what he envisioned for York."


If you go

Broadway music director Todd Ellison conducts the York Symphony Orchestra's new pops series. Pianist Kevin Cole will join the YSO for the first concert, "Tribute to Gershwin," 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.

The show will feature George Gershwin selections from "Porgy and Bess," "Swanee," "Rhapsody in Blue," "An American in Paris" and more. Tickets cost $36, $46 and $56. Student tickets are $18. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.


See 'Annie'

The Kennard-Dale High School Drama Club is sponsoring a bus trip April 13 to see the musical "Annie" on Broadway. Cost is $170 per person. Some seats to go to New York without seeing the show are available. They cost $75. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis. A $30 seat deposit is due today. For details and reservations, visit www.sesdweb.net.

For details about "Annie," visit anniethemusical.com.


Online

Todd Ellison: toddellisonmusic.com

Kevin Cole: www.kevincoleonline.com

York Symphony Orchestra: www.yorksymphony.org

Marvin Hamlisch: marvinhamlisch.us

George and Ira Gershwin: www.gershwin.com

"The Nutty Professor" musical: www.nuttyprofessormusical.com