Young folks these days have little idea of what Broadway musicals sounded like in the years before mikes began to be routine during the 1960s. Singers actually used their voices unamplified. Scott Siegel has made an important contribution with his “Broadway Unplugged” shows (“sound design by God”) and the latest example was last night (November 18) with the 18th annual edition staged at Merkin Concert Hall. Creator, writer, director and host Siegel did the introductory honors with his splendid cast of singers blessed with voices that need no amplification.
The accompaniment was provided by the superb musical director and pianist Ross Patterson, talented Don Falzone on bass and expert cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, with a wide variety of styles required for the extensive song list, mainly from Broadway shows in different time periods.
Male singers mostly dominated the roster. Opera star John Easterlin, who has a magnificent voice, sang “One Alone” from “The Desert Song,” and also “She Wasn’t You” from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” The voice of William Michals always thrills, as happened again when he sang “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast.” Siegel pointed out that Michals actually made his Broadway debut in that show. Michals also gave a stunning rendition of “If We Only Have Love” from “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”
Douglas Ladnier also showed his vocal prowess with “They Call the Wind Maria” from “Paint Your Wagon” and entertainingly teamed with Brian Charles Rooney singing the Righteous Brothers song “Soul and Inspiration,” not from Broadway, but chosen by Siegel just because he likes that number and wanted to get it in.
Bill Daugherty is another major talent, as evidenced by his singing “I Don’t Want to Know” from “Dear World” and teaming amusingly with Klea Blackhurst (we’ll get to her in a moment) in “You’re Just in Love” from “Call Me Madam.” Michael Winther was another standout singing “Lonely House” from “Street Scene,” and “Love Can’t Happen” from “Grand Hotel.” The show “Evita” was recalled by Cooper Grodin impressively singing “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Fathers and Sons” from “Working.” Ben Jones amusingly contributed “Guido’s Song” from “Nine.”
When it comes to women who can sing without a mike, Klea Blackhurst is a cinch with her Ethel Merman-like voice. (I recently enjoyed her in the New York City Center Encores! presentation of “Call Me Madam.”) Early in the “Broadway Unplugged” concert she wowed the audience with “I Got the Sun in the Mornin’” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Maxine Linehan, with a wealth of international experience, took on the task of singing “Memory” from “Cats” without a mike and she did justice to that iconic number. She was also striking teaming with Ben Jones to sing “Move On” from “Sunday in the Park With George.”
For the final number talented Farah Alvin strongly launched into “The Music That Makes Me Dance” from “Funny Girl.”
There was a pleasing youthful touch added during the program. A group of singers from various universities who took part in Siegel’s “Broadway Rising Stars” series took the stage to prove they too could sing without amplification. Christopher Brian, Mara Friedman, Brian Gabriel and Adan Gallegos harmonized with “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line.”
The entire company gathered for a finale that summarized the concept that contemporary performers if given the opportunity could demonstrate what it was like to rely on natural voices as in bygone days without their being pumped up with mikes. At the Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street. Reviewed November 19, 2019.