And a little child shall lead them. A highlight of “The Broadway Musicals of 2007-2016” at TheTown Hall Monday night (June 19, 2017) was the smashing appearance of eight-year-old Rianna LaVerdiere, taking center stage, along with her parents, singers Christiane Noll and James LaVerdiere. With impeccable poise and a pleasing voice she sang “When I Grow Up” from “Matilda,” and indeed, she already looked quite grown up with her winsome show biz know-how. The audience embraced her, and her participating parents looked so pleased. Rianna must get superb home training, and there is the clear possibility of following professionally in her the footsteps of Noll and LaVerdiere.
The latest in the Broadway By the Year series, created, written, directed and hosted by Scott Siegel, with musical direction by Ross Patterson, brought the decades covered in the past up to date. There was less reaching down memory lane and more recent recollections of hit songs from Broadway shows. However, there were some favorite oldies as a result of their being incorporated into musicals during the past decade.
Noll and LaVerdiere did sharp work when their daughter was backstage. Noll shone with “Pure Imagination” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the defiant “Woman” from “The Pirate Queen,” and “Journey to the Past” from “Anastasia,” as well as teaming with her husband on “A Christmas Song” from “Elf.” The Number from “Anastasia” included signers from the Broadway by the Year Chorus and the entire company.
Another special feature of the evening was the appearance of the always impressive Alice Ripley, who poured it on with “Fever” from “Million Dollar Quartet,” further delighted with “You Learn to Live Without” from “If/Then” and soared with her signature song, “I Miss the Mountains” from her triumph in “Next to Normal.”
There are always discoveries to be made in the series, and this time around the newcomer spotlight was seized by Chelsea Wheatly of the Broadway by the Year Chorus. She did a knockout rendition of “I’m Changing My Major to Joan” from “Fun Home,” expressing sheer delight in a sexual experience with a woman the night before. In addition to an appealing voice, Wheatley displays an extremely expressive face as she sings.
Jeanine Bruen sang “Burn” from Hamilton, and Siegel quipped concerning her up-and-coming talent that by the time people in the audience who had not yet seen “Hamilton” do get to see it, they might well find Bruen in it. Interesting looking Erin Davie, who has a voice that can soar, delighted with “Always Better” from “The Bridges of Madison County,” “What Baking Can Do” from “Waitress” and “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Standout male voices included Scott Coulter excelling with “Electricity” from “Billy Elliot,” a dynamic “I Will Survive” from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “You’ve Got a Friend” from “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” There was also talented Brandon Uranowitz singing “Build a Wall” (nothing to do with Trump) from “Shrek” and in a striking gender twist, “The Man I Love” from “An American in Paris.”
Tap dancing has long been a staple of the series, and this one went all out in that department. The first half ended with “Fascinating Rhythm” from "Nice Work If You Can Get It,” brilliantly choreographed and tapped by Luke Hawkins. The show was capped with a wow when Danny Gardner choreographed and tapped dazzlingly as he led a cane-wielding tap brigade in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from “Young Frankenstein.” The perfectly coordinated troupers included Sean Bell, Allegra Bennett, Sarah Fagan, Kim McClay, Jake Primmerman, Tiffany Rudi, Joseph Sammour, John Scacchetti, Kelly Sheehan and Michael Verre.
Ross Patterson, ever on the piano as well as being musical director, was accompanied by Randy Landau on bass and Jamie Eblen on drums. Rick Hinkson was assistant director and assistant stage manager, with Joe Burke and Holly Cruz as production assistants. Members of the Broadway by the Year Chorus, in addition to the soloing Chelsea Wheatley and Jeanine Bruen, included Pedro Coppeti, Ashton Corey, Samantha Owen and Matt Weinstein. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2017.