Over and over again I am impressed by the talent that illuminates the shows in The Town Hall “Broadway by the Year” series, no matter what the year being celebrated. There are the clever well-researched introductory information bits dispensed by creator/writer/host Scott Siegel. There’s the excellent musicianship of Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band. The choreography is snappy, and numbers are sung by performers with superb voices, sometimes even off-mike. I may have had a hectic day, but I know when I see one of these productions I’ll get an entertaining lift. It was exactly that way again in the survey of shows from 1946, including Siegel’s wittily amusing recap of what was going on in the world the year after World War II ended.
How can you top Marilyn Maye? After the company opened with an ensemble rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” out came Maye to sing the hell out of “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” from “St. Louis Woman.” Maye is amazing. She hits every note on target, sings with gusto and moves about the stage like a youngster. In a different mood, she later sang “I Got Lost in his Arms” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and doing the closing number, “Come Rain or Come Shine” from “St. Louis Woman,” she came across making you feel as if you’d never heard the song before. What a treasure she is!
Tom Wopat gives any show class. He nailed “I Wonder What Became of Me” from “St. Louis Woman” with much sensitivity, and was also appealing with “I’ve Got Me” from “Beggar’s Holiday.” He gave an appropriately easygoing rendition of “Take Love Easy” from the same show and injected fresh spirit into “My Defenses Are Down” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Wopat, the perfect leading man, is also masterly in duets. He paired engagingly with Alice Ripley—more about her in a moment—in “They Say It’s Wonderful” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” obviously the most popular show of ’46. Taking another from the Irving Berlin hit, Wopat teamed with the terrific Jessie Mueller to sing the dueling “Anything You Can Do.”
Speaking of Mueller, she is a strong presence and has a dynamic voice, as evidenced by her “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” another from the Berlin smash. She also gave us a beautiful, delicate “Bitter Harvest” from “Lute Song.” Getting back to Ripley, she makes a point of trying to be especially vocally creative in the interpretations of her selections, as with “My Business Man” from “If the Shoe Fits” and “I Had Myself a True Love” from “St Louis Woman.” At times I’m not sure whether she wanders on a note as a miss or whether it is a deliberate attempt to be different, but it is always interesting to see what she will come up with in her approaches.
The most effervescent addition to the evening was Dameka Hayes, a petite bundle of sassiness and sexiness. She has a great flair for combining humor with her sizzling body language, and she possesses a rich voice to boot. All of this was abundantly apparent with her “A Woman’s Prerogative” from “St. Louis Woman.” Ditto for the wildly sexy number she did with Noah Racey--“Legalize My Name,” also from “St. Louis Woman.”
The always dependable Racey, who directed the show, also did the lively and inventive choreography. One of the most enjoyable numbers was “The Old Soft Shoe” from “Three to Make Ready.” Racey and Sara Brians first appeared as old decrepit couple leaning on canes, and as they reminisced about the good old days, they slid into spirited soft shoe dancing like entertainers in their youth, flipping their canes about, removing their shoes and dancing in socks with consummate, understated skill. Racey built the number into an ensemble, he and Brians being backed by sock-wearing Kiira Schmidt, Vanessa Sonon, Danny Gardner and Luke Hawkins. It is important to note how much Brians excels as a dancer, with impressive bearing and fetching movement.
Racey, Brians, Schmidt and Sonon had loads of singing and dancing fun tearing into “South America, Take It Away” from “Call Me Mister,” with plenty of “ay-yi-yi”s. (I’d like to see a Jewish version with “oy-yoi-yoi”s.)
Other standouts: Danny Gardner, becoming rube-like, was hilarious singing “I Want to Go to City College” from the forgotten “Toplitzky of Notre Dame.” And Ben Davis demonstrated the strength of his pleasing voice singing “My Heart Belongs to You” from “The Land of Smiles” without a mike, which he certainly didn’t need.
Coming Up: The Broadway Musicals of 1950, March 19, The Broadway Musicals of 1975, May 14, and The Broadway Musicals of 1987, June 11.
Reviewed at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-840-2824.