The show started with a bang, as Josh Young opened with altered lyrics to “Maria” from “West Side Story,” impressively belting “Barb Siegel” in an entertainingly appropriate twist. He caught the spirit of the evening paying tribute to Siegel for her long contributions to the theater, most importantly as Chair of the Drama Desk Nominating Committee for 12 years as part of the 18 years she served. An assembly of entertainers who had won Drama Desk nominations and/or awards performed at the event (January 27, 2916), a benefit for The Actors Fund. With the first show at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Room sold out, a second show at 9:30 was added with a mostly different cast.
Siegel had previously been presented with a prestigious Drama Desk award statue at a Drama Desk membership meeting. The benefit tribute was MC’d and arranged by Scott Siegel, Barbara’s husband, with Ross Patterson, long-time musical director for Siegel’s “Broadway By the Year” series, at the piano. Performer after performer had laudatory words for Barbara, as well as for Scott, emphasizing the important service she had done in her Drama Desk post, plus her qualities as a colorful and generous person.
(Informational note: I served two terms as a member of the Drama Desk Nominating Committee under Barbara, and during my four-year period as Drama Desk President I also worked with her in that capacity.)
The entertainment lineup was impressive at the first show, which I attended. Mary Testa, summoning full force of her voice and personality, delivered a powerful “Coronet Man.” Michael Winther movingly sang “Take a Look at Me,” in which a son pleads to his father to recognize the qualities in him.
Striking looking Luba Mason sang directly to Siegel, seated in the back, with a heartfelt rendition of “Someone Like You.” She was followed by Robert Cuccioli, who, also aimed his number at the honoree, singing in strong voice “Prisoner of Love.” Stephanie D’Abruzzo, asserting what a Drama Desk Nomination meant to boosting her career and her self-perception, impressed with “There’s a Fine Fine Line.”
If there was a show-stealer, the title belonged to Jason Graae, who trotted out the special material “Slasher Medley.” Appearing at first in a white Hannibal Lecter-type mask, which he soon removed, Graae paid a tribute to Broadway in the form of energetically-sung, changed lyrics as an ode to murderous fun, deliciously savoring the way in which people could be slashed to pieces. Lyric example: “If ever I would cleave you, I’d start around the elbow.” The result was utterly hilarious.
When Chuck Cooper takes the stage, you know to expect a mighty voice. He did not disappoint, scoring effectively with the appropriate, “You There in the Back Row.” And when Karen Mason takes the stage, you know she will make any selection she sings her own. Taking the well-worn number “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” she poured her guts into it in her own ultra-effective style, providing yet another crowd-pleaser.
Lisa Howard has a beautiful voice, as she demonstrated with “Climb Every Mountain.” Ryan Silverman also pleased with his strong “Without a Song,” and Beth Leavel built to a thrilling crescendo in topping the bill with “Home,” a salute to being in the theater.
Of course, Barbara Siegel appeared to give her thanks for being honored, and she spoke about the pleasure she has had in serving in her nominating post and playing a role in honoring so many shows and individuals who represented the best in theater work. She also graciously thanked those who had worked with her and assisted importantly in the nominating process. Naturally, she also thanked her husband Scott, who regularly cites her contributions at every one of the shows he produces.
At the second show of the evening, which I did not attend, the lineup, in addition to return performances by Josh Young and Stephanie D’Abruzzo, included Alison Fraser, John Bolton, Jim Brochu, Bob Stillman, Christina Bianco, Margo Seibert, Julie Halston, Julia Murney, Philip Boykin and Emily Skinner. At The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Reviewed January 28, 2016.