“Broadway By the Year” is the Town Halltheater’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 contributes interesting historical information about the songs. The Ross Patterson Little Big Band provides wonderful musical accompaniment.
I saw this year’s prior 1940-1964 installment of Siegel’s series. That “some enchanted evening” was enthralling to the extent that I was clamoring for more. With the American presidential election chant “four more years” resonating, I knew that I just had to hear “twenty-five more years” of Broadway by the Year. Yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald said “there are no second acts in American lives.” But, be that as it may, this New Yorker’s life was enhanced by the chance to view a second installment of Siegel’s mesmerizing assemblage of Broadway history. I happily settled into my great row Q aisle orchestra seat and became caught up in the electricity the full house generated.
Siegel noted that 1965-1989 was characterized by musical theater experimentation and that this era represents the time when those seated in the full house saw the plays first hand. And, of course, Stephen Sondheim dominated the scene. I particularly appreciated hearing the Baby Boomer anthems “Frank Mills” from HAIR (1968) and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1971—beautifully sung by Ann Harada).
Annie Golden evoked the good old HAIR days in that she dressed for the part wearing brown boots, a pleated skirt, and a tee shirt. She looked so different from all the formally dressed women in black who beguiled the audience. She flashed a peace sign as she bounded off the stage. And re: Baby Boomers, who would have thunk it that Herman’s Hermits’ “Leaning on a Lamp-Post” is from ME AND MY GIRL (1986)? Stephen DeRosa provided an original take when he treated the microphone holder like a lamp-post and literally leaned on it.
And of course the time would have been out of joint sans inclusion of the pervasive “Memory” from CATS (1982), “I Dreamed A Dream” from LES MISERABLES (1987) and “Music of the Night” from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1988)—respectively presented by Elizabeth Stanley, Kerry O’Malley, and Kevin Earley. Siegel quipped that “CATS has run longer than most marriages.” The unexpected cropped up when “Tomorrow” from ANNIE (1977) was sung by a middle-aged man (Scott Coulter) rather than the du rigueur cute young girl. Christina Bianco became the standing ovation standout of the evening when she corrected the fact that “Who Can I Turn Too?” (from THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT—THE SMELL OF THE CROWD) is usually sung by men. She performed the song in the voices of such female powerhouses as Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and Cher. Her imitation of Julie Andrews was hilarious to the extent that I was almost blown away to row R.
“Go Into Your Dance” from 42ND STREET (1979) was interpreted by the very talented tap dancers Mara Davi, Drew Humphrey, Lea Kohl, Kristyn Pope, and Kelly Sheehan. The chance to see their “dancin’ feet” on 43rd Street added pizazz to the evening. Adriane Lenox offered the most lively, animated, and physical performance of the night when, wearing a sparkling beige pantsuit, she cavorted while singing “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” from AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (1978). She even kissed Siegel!
The audience really appreciated that Quentin Earl Darrington especially flew in from Chicago to sing “Nobody” from BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR (1976). And Lee Roy Reams brought the house down when he movingly sang “I Am What I Am” from LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1983). Siegel made the right choice when he decided to flout chronology and end the evening with the 1965 “The Impossible Dream” from MAN OF LA MANCHA. William Michals’ moving interpretation of the song emphasized that it is unquestionably timeless.
Even though the evening was magical, time does march on. I exited the theater, returned to 2014, and joined the happy throng making its way down 43rd Street. I heard a woman speak for what I think is the audience’s response to the evening when she said “that was really something!” I look forward to watching the upcoming Tony Awards with an eye toward being on the lookout for the very talented performers Scott Siegel so adroitly assembled. I hope that they all break a leg!
– Marleen Barr
Photographs courtesy of Maryann Lopinto