They saved the overall best for last at The Town Hall’s 2010 Broadway Cabaret Festival (October 15-17), and that’s not to overlook all the fun in the first segment and the audience-pleasing Betty Buckley concert in the middle show, but the total impact in the Broadway Originals! closer proved to be to be an exceptional afternoon to remember. Scott Siegel, creator, writer and host and The Town Hall have the right to crow.
Let’s first acknowledge some of the joys of the first show (October 15), which was built mostly around songs reflecting composers of Broadway shows under the title "Broadway Melody Makers." I was especially enamored by Nellie MacKay this time around. She did numbers particularly suited to her individualistic musical and performing style. Accompanying herself on piano, she gave a delicate, thoughtful rendition of "What’ll I do?" from the 1923 "Music Box Revue," then she injected plenty of fun into the oddly selected "Don’t Fence Me In" from the film "Hollywood Canteen" and cemented her upbeat impression with "It’s All Right With Me" from "Can-Can." MacKay made me want to hear a lot more of her.
As for the men in the show, Tom Wopat and Gregg Edelman were thoroughly entertaining. Wopat delivered "Cool" from "West Side Story"—cool indeed—and a swinging "Luck Be a Lady" from "Guys and Dolls" He also demonstrated why "Anyone Can Whistle," the title song for that show, is such a good number. Edelman put loads of romance into "She Loves Me" from the show by that name, injected amusement into " Rhode Island is Famous for You" from "Inside U.S.A." and turned up the heat with "Guido’s Song" from "Nine." The two clicked together mightily in a duet of "You’re Nothing Without Me" from "City of Angels ."
Regarding the women in the concert, Judy Kaye was powerful with "What Did I Have That I Don’t Have" from "On a Clear Day" and was also outstanding with "Loving You from "Passion" and "Not a Day Goes By" from "Merrily We Roll Along." She put her own tough imprint belting the anthem "I’m Still Here" from "Follies." Mary Testa was at her best tearing into "Hard Hearted Hannah" from "Innocent Eyes" with gusto and show biz pizzazz. Alice Ripley took a crack at the difficult "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from "Sunset Boulevard" and sang something closer to her, "Private Conversations" from "Side Show," the musical in which she co-starred. The foregoing are samplings from the overall helping of entertainment provided by the audience-pleasing contingent, directed by Scott Coulter with a flair for enticing the audience. Musical direction for "Broadway Melody Makers" was by Ross Patterson.
Betty Buckley was the sole star attraction in the middle program (October 16), and she quickly established her terrain and mostly molded the occasion according to what she liked to do best. Performing with her own group of musicians, she eased into the Broadway theme with "It Might as Well be Spring’ but soon was into more esoteric material that enabled her to show off her jazz styling. Her most impressive number closed the first act when she ripped into "Stormy Blues," a song associated with Billie Holiday.
Buckley established a love fest with her fans, who greeted every number with enthusiasm, as with her intense rendition of "There’s a Fine, Fine Line." Her second act adhered closer to the Broadway theme, including "Hey There," "You’ve Got Possibilities," and her signature song. "Memory" from "Cats," a pretty much obligatory choice. And nobody sings that like Betty.
The finale show, "Broadway Originals!" featured reprises by performers singing what they sang on Broadway over the years. There was a great exception—surprise guest star Marilyn Maye, with numbers she said she had recorded before they went into the Broadway shows. Even at her advanced age. Maye sets a standard for excellence, as she showed by turning on the crowd with choices that included "I’ll Never Fall in Love Again" and "Cabaret." Performerss could learn from her diction, phrasing, timing and energetic ability to communicate.
One novelty in the show, directed by Michele Lee, also one of the performing stars, was participants recounting hilarious backstage stories. That provided a nice personal touch, established by Tom Wopat, Lucie Arnez and Lee at the outset in addition to singing "There’s No Business Like Show Business" from "Annie Get Your Gun."
What a contingent of Broadway babes! Arnaz has the gift of inundating an audience with personality plus, and can deliver numbers with show biz power, as with her "I Still Believe in Love" from her show "They’re Playing Our Song."
Lee also has that wow quality. As she demonstrated handily with "I’m All I’ve Got" from "Bravo Giovanni," "I Believe in You" from "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and "Seesaw" from the musical of that title. She also is great at spinning stories and ad-libbing. When a phone ring failed to go off on cue, she asked with exasperation. "Who’s directing this thing?" She was.
Peformers from the past showed that they still had the right stuff. Loni Ackerman delivered the potent tirade against "Men" from the musical "So Long, 174th Street ." Crista Moore demonstrated what she had done in a revival of "Gypsy" from the Baby June vaudeville "Let me Entertain You" to the sweet "Little Lamb" to her adult "Let Me Entertain You," in which she debuts as a stripper. Moore turned on plenty of voice and body sexuality, but keeping within the teasing good taste that became the hallmark of Gypsy Rose Lee.
Maureen Silliman sang a lovely rendition of the title song from "I Remember Mama." Sarah Uriarte Berry recaptured the beauty of "The Joy You Feel" from "The Light in the Piazza." Christiane Noll added more eloquence with her gorgeous singing of "Back to Before" from "Ragtime." There was a very special appearance by Jo Sullivan Loesser, widow of Frank Loesser, in whose show "Most Happy Fella" she appeared. She reprised "Somebody, Somewhere" with profound feeling.
Nancy Opel gave a dynamic performance singing the satirically hilarious "Privilege to Pee" from Urintown." Host Scott Segal didn’t miss the opportunity to remind people at intermission that it was time to exercise their "privilege."
The surprise hit show "Avenue Q" yielded two numbers, "Purpose," sung amiably by John Tartaglia, and "There’s a Fine, Fine Line," performed by Stephanie D’Abruzzo. Wopat, so good in the first show of the series, did it again singing "My Defenses Are Down" from "Annie Get Your Gun" and the moving "I Stayed," from the under-appreciated "A Catered Affair." Musical direction for "Broadway Originals!" was by John Fischer.
Without having cited all the numbers, I think you get the idea of how much talent and spirit was crowded into the three shows of this year’s Broadway Cabaret Festival. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street.