The audience attending the last of three programs in the Seventh Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival, produced by The Town Hall (Friday, Oct. 28, 2011) was treated to a combination of insider discussion and illustrative performances spanning the art of American dance and the artistry of Judy Garland. On hand to talk with creator/writer/host Scott Siegel were two special co-hosts for the occasion, director and choreographer Susan Stroman, and Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft. The interweaving of film clips, background information and exuberant performances made for an especially broad and varied show.
The first act was devoted to dance, and got off to an exhilarating start with the talented dancer and choreographer Noah Racey turning on the charm in giving his effervescent interpretation of “Once in Love with Amy” from “Where’s Charley?” Racey delighted with deft maneuvering of his cane prop, smart stepping and personality plus. The number, of course, was originally made popular by the late Ray Bolger.
No reflection on Racey and his own personal style, but a follow-up clip of Bolger dancing in the film “The Harvey Girls” showed Bolger’s uniquely dazzling ability, with his rubber-like limbs and his amazing body manipulation and overall greatness with which nobody could be expected to compete.
Having personable Susan Stroman on the program was a coup. She talked knowledgeably about dance in Hollywood movies in response to Siegel’s pertinent questions. Clips were shown of James Cagney and Bob Hope dancing in “The Seven Little Foys” and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the film “Roberta.” Stroman spoke movingly about the influence Rogers had on her and the time she met the star, who by then was in a wheelchair but opened her arms to Stroman for a heartfelt embrace.
The live performance part of the program included Jeffry Denman singing (off-mike) and dancing “Give My Regards to Broadway” from “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” Racey teaming with Luke Hawkins to re-create the entertaining “Moses Supposes” number from “Singin’ in the Rain,” Meredith Patterson giving a spirited rendition of “Shakin’ the Blues Away” from “Easter Parade” and Racey and Nancy Lemenager dancing to “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time.”
Act Two was devoted to Garland and the numbers associated with her. It opened with a clip from Garland’s 1963-64 television show, in which she sang to her then young daughter Lorna. Interviewed by Siegel, Luft told stories about her mother, some personal, some professional. Stroman joined the discussion for a while to give her evaluation of Garland’s work.
It was the parade of singers that provided the emotional connection with Garland with respect to her artistry. There were no misfired attempts to imitated Garland. Instead, each performer endeavored to make the number her own. Carole J. Bufford, who knocks me out with her talent more and more each time I see her perform, was stirring with “You Made Me Love You,” “After You’ve Gone” and especially “The Man That Got Away.” Elizabeth Stanley contributed “Zing Went the Strngs of My Heart,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Over the Rainbow.” It was a pleasure to have Racey and Denman pair on “Get Happy.”
The entertainment-laden and information-rich production flowed smoothly under the direction of Siegel and assistant director Vibecke Dahle, with musical direction by Ross Patterson, who always does a brilliant job of arranging and presiding at the keyboard as he leads his musicians in the challenging task of accompanying performers whose numbers range wide in style and intensity. Reviewed at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-840-2824.