Photographs courtesy of Maryann Lopinto
“Broadway By the Year” is the Town Hall theater’s long running performance series which presents a chronological two act rendition of major songs derived from Broadway musicals.
Scott Siegel–the creator, writer, and host—introduces each song via an at once warm and informative lecture-style format. He kisses the performers, schmoozes with the audience, and provides touching moments such as placing a pile of tissues on the stage to accompany “Sunrise, Sunset” (Fiddler On The Roof, 1964). (All American Jews, without fail, immediately if not sooner cry as soon as they hear this song’s first note.) The Ross Patterson Little Big Band provided wonderful musical accompaniment.
As Ethel Merman belting out “There’s No Business Like Show Business” ran through my mind, I found my great front row balcony seat and settled in for what I knew would be what South Pacific (1949) calls “some enchanted evening.” Imagining myself as an all-powerful theater critic of yore—either Clive Barnes or Walter Kerr fits the bill nicely—I switched my mind’s eye Broadway lyric tape to “curtain up, light the light . . . . let’s go on with the show.”
But the Town Hall stage did not contain a curtain. Reality: the railing in front of my seat was precipitously low and the balcony height was vertiginous. So, while responding to the performers by swooning in ecstasy, screaming bravo, and crying my eyes out during “Sunrise, Sunset” (and “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot too), I had to concentrate on not toppling over the railing and “falling splat” on the orchestra seating area. I mean neither Clive nor Walter ever fell splat—and this potentially life threatening experience would be even worse than the technical difficulties which plagued Spiderman Turn Off The Dark. This scenario did not ensue. Instead “light the light” was turned on—and I was treated to marvelously performed songs which ran the gamut from “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (Pal Joey, 1940—performed by Natalie Douglas) to “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly!, 1964—performed by Marilyn Maye.)
Ms. Maye, the singer who Johnny Carson most often invited to The Tonight Show, was the star of the evening. The audience also appreciated seeing Anita Gillette sing “Nightlife,” a song she performed in the original 1962 production of All American. William Michals’ rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine” (South Pacific) received the evening’s most thunderous applause. The audience also greatly appreciated Jason Graae as he cavorted on stage while performing “She Loves Me” from the 1963 work which shares this song’s title. My favorite moment occurred when Jeffrey Schecter created Jewish choreography and intonation for the leprechaun character who sings “If I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” (Finian’s Rainbow, 1947). The leprechaun’s name is Og; host Siegel said he is more aptly named “Oy-g.” This sounds exactly like something I—rather than Clive or Walter—would say. I do not have the words to express how much I loved this name change—not to mention the thought of a Jewish leprechaun.
Intermission took place immediately after we arrived at 1953 and heard Maxine Linehan’s moving version of “I Love Paris” (Can-Can). Now, I really can’t directly say anything about the can—and it is now obvious that I vociferously applaud rather than can all the performances which were, to say the least, awesome. But I must insist that I—regardless of the season– do not love Manhattan theater bathrooms. This was the situation: a packed house filled with no longer young people realized that they had yet to sit through an entire decade of musical theater history. A stampede to the bathroom resembled the western-set Paint Your Wagon (1951). The long line caused me to miss the start of the second act. I was corralled outside the closed theater door with a huddled group straining to hear every single note of “Captain Hook’s Waltz” (Peter Pan, 1954). This effort showed just how enthusiastic the people in attendance were. Panic gripped the temporarily ostracized group when the rumor started that we were at that very moment missing none other than Camelot. “No. That can’t be. Camelot is from 1960—and they’re only up to 1954,” said a very well informed attendee. All the exiles breathed a sigh of relief as the security guard opened the door and we all filed back in to enjoy the great second act.
I yelled “bravo” as Marilyn Maye stood center stage among all the performers taking their final bows. I think that Clive and Walter would concur with me. I left the theater sans falling mishap feeling enlivened by the performances—and knowing that “Oy, Climb Ev’ry Mountain” aptly applies to my very Jewish and, hence, very exaggerated version of ascending steep balcony stairs.
– Marleen Barr
Photographs courtesy of Maryann Lopinto