THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1937 Send This Review to a Friend
It was a very good year for “Babes in Arms,” but 1937 also marked the production of Harold Rome’s “Pins and Needles,” the hit presented by members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a legendary show that I had heard about for years from those who celebrated the battles and triumphs in Roosevelt’s New Deal era. Activists who had a love for theater looked to that show as a blend of art and struggle. I recall seeing and admiring a 1962 revival with another cast.
Evidence of the “Pins and Needles” appeal was boldly on display in “The Broadway Musicals of 1937,” another in the consistently entertaining series created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel and presented February 11 by The Town Hall. The spirit of “Pins and Needles” was highlighted by “Sing Me a Song with Social Significance,” sung by Stephen DeRosa and company. The fabled musical also had its sassy personal side with the number “Nobody Makes a Pass at Me,” performed by the trio of Carole J. Bufford, Tonya Pinkins and Elizabeth Stanley, who captured the injured egos of three women, although it was hard to believe that nobody would make a pass at these knockouts.
The other numbers from that show included “One Big Union for Two,” played by musical director and pianist Ross Patterson, with Adam Armstrong on bass, Jared Schonig on drums and Pete Anderson on woodwinds. Later in the act there was a terrific dance number, “Doing the Reactionary,” performed by the slickly talented Danny Gardner, Brent McBeth and Derek Roland, set to the Gardner’s choreography.
In the first act Gardner choreographed and performed “Touched in the Head” from the show “Sea Legs” (Michael H. Cleary and Arthur Schwartz), a hilarious turn with Gardner bound in a straightjacket, but nevertheless energetically tap-dancing across the stage and back.
The dip into 1937 nostalgia, directed by Mindy Cooper, highlighted numbers from “Babes in Arms,” a major hit of the year with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It was subsequently turned into a movie that, Siegel noted, inexplicably used only two songs from the show. There was no such dereliction at The Town Hall, which included six of them, performed by the superb assembled cast.
It was a joy to hear the remarkable team of Elizabeth Stanley and Brian d’Arcy James sing the durable “Where or When.” The same can be said for Tonya Pinkins giving her very personal take on the also durable “My Funny Valentine.” D’Arcy James and Pinkins teamed beautifully on “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and Stanley gave “Johnny-One Note” her powerful interpretation. Other numbers from “Babes in Arms” included “Way Out West,” sung by Stephen DeRosa, and Pinkins doing “The Lady Is a Tramp.”
I never tire of observing what quality performers Siegel gets for these Broadway By the Year show. The 1937 excavation was no exception. D’Arcy James delivered a wistful “By Myself,” from “Between the Devil” (Arthur Schwartz and Harold Dietz) and also sang “Have You Met Miss Jones?” from “I’d Rather be Right” (Rodgers and Hart), as well as “The Fireman’s Flame” (Richard Lewine and Ted Fetter) from the show of the same name. Kevin Earley sang-- without a mike--“Why Did You Kiss My Heart Awake?” from “Frederika” (Franz Lehar and Edward Eliscu) and also performed with Elizabeth Stanley, both without mikes, “To Love is to Live” from “Three Waltzes” (Johann Strauss, Jr. and Clare Kummer). Earley effectively sang “Down With Love” from “Horray for What!” (Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg).
Carole J. Bufford, whose range seems to now no bounds, excelled with “Why Did You Do It?” from “Between the Devil,” and the show highlighted her in “Buds Won’t Bud” from “Hooray for What!” and “I Sometimes Wonder” from “Three Waltzes.” Any show with Tonya Pinkins starts with an advantage. It was a pleasure to hear her sing “Moanin’ in the Mornin,’” yet another from “Hooray for What!” in addition to her other contributions. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed February 12, 2013.