One way of lessening the impact of progressive birthdays is to jump the gun and declare that you are 103 so that people say you don’t look anywhere near that. Scott Siegel cleverly did just that, labeling a birthday celebration at 54 Below, part of his Broadway Ballyhoo series, his 103rd. Making merry for the occasion were some of his favorite stars. Impresario Siegel has earned a reputation for the Broadway by the Year series and other shows that he has been mounting.
Those who took the stage at the celebration last night, September 25, included Karen Mason, John Bolton, Scott Coulter, Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, Carole J. Bufford, Jillian Louis and Maxine Linehan. Ian Herman was musical director, and Siegel hosted his own bash, even distributing mostly oddball presents to some in the audience.
Karen Mason showed off her range with a very sexy and vocally exciting “All That Jazz,” and in sharp contrast, a deeply feeling, extremely intimate “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” She returned to close the evening with a dynamic “Better Days.”
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is a fabled Depression number decrying the fate of ex-servicemen down-and-out and neglected. Typically, it is sung by men. But Carole J. Bufford movingly turned the tables as a woman singing it in her own impassioned and effective style. In another appearance, she emerged from among the tables performing, continental fashion, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
John Bolton gave the evening a comic charge with his very funny “Mention My Name in Sheboygan,” sung from the viewpoint of a guy with a terrible reputation wherever he goes. He was even funnier when he returned to show what “Oklahoma” can sound like in German, Italian and Japanese.
More humor came from Jillian Louis singing “Queens,” perkily skewering the borough as a place nobody wants to be from or visit. Contrasting her ability with such a cute comic number, she demonstrated her range with the dramatic “I, Who Have Nothing.”
Maxine Linehan combines a golden voice with her interpretive powers, demonstrated with “In My Daughter’s Eyes” and “Walk Through the World With Me.” Everyone in the audience was given a copy of her new CD “Maxine Linehan: An American Journey.”
Carolyn Montgomery-Forant lashed out at bad treatment of women by other women, pointedly singing “Mean Girls,” then tenderly sang directly to seated Siegel “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.”
A highlight of the program was the appearance of Scott Coulter, who not only has performed in many of Siegel’s shows, but has often directed them. Coulter thrives at high pitch, as shown anew with “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” and “The Sound of Music.”
The next Broadway Ballyhoo is on Oct 23 at 7 pm with Karen Akers headlining. At 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 646-476-3551. Reviewed September 26, 2014.