By William Wolf

THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1915-39  Send This Review to a Friend

I have yet to see so many terrific performers, including many award winners, assembled in one Broadway by the Year show, and it makes sense that it should have happened on February 24, 2014 at The Town Hall. Creator-writer-host Scott Siegel has hit on a great idea—celebrating 100 years of Broadway in four different concert productions. A big idea deserves a big show, and the first in the 100-year anniversary series certainly was. It covered 1915-1939, and the casting was awesome, with direction by Scott Coulter, music direction by Ross Patterson and choreography by Vibecke Dahle, Danny Gardner and Noah Racey. And Siegel was at his customary microphone post to wittily do the introductions.

I don’t mean to slight any performers that might not be highlighted, but there were certain thrilling performances that especially stood out. Lari White sent the proverbial chills up and down my spine with her great rendition of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from the 1927 groundbreaking “Showboat.” Tonya Pinkins, without a mike, gave a devastating interpretation of the haunting “Supper Time” from the 1933 “As Thousands Cheer.” In “Supper Time”a woman sings about her husband who has been lynched and won’t ever be coming home again, and Pinkins captured all of the drama inherent in a widow’s understated but poignant rage and love.

Among the exciting male voices was that of opera singer John Easterlin, also singing unplugged, and rendering “Only a Rose” from the 1925 “The Vagabond King” with astonishing effect. Sal Viviano’s “Begin the Beguine” from the 1935 “Jubilee” was a feat of beauty. Joshua Henry, although not possessing a Paul Robeson-like depth of voice, made up for it with his fine vocal ability, passion and meaningful interpretation singing “Ol’ Man River,” enhanced by participation of the Broadway By the Year Chorus, the combination making for an impressive finale.

Stephanie J. Block made “My Man” from the 1921 Ziegfeld Follies thoroughly her own. Jillian Louis more than did justice to “Look for a Silver Lining” from the 1920 “Sally.” Karen Akers, shining with her customary elegance, captivated us with “What’ll I Do?” from the 1923 “Music Box Revue.” Whenever I see Carole J. Bufford listed on a program, I await her turn with great expectation, and she always comes through. In this instance, she seized the classic “Love for Sale” from the 1930 “The New Yorkers” and beautifully grasped every bit of sadness from the plight of a woman of the streets.

Emily Skinner expressed the longings that so many felt for loved ones fighting abroad and those left behind during World War II (feelings no doubt replicated with current warfare) by singing with utmost tenderness “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which came from the 1938 “Right This Way” but became a huge hit after the United States entered World War II. Beth Leavel reached back to “Sinbad” of 1918 to sing, Al Jolson style, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”

There was more of such top-level performing, but there was also a huge element of sheer fun in the show. Mark Nadler got off to a lively start with his riffing on “I Love a Piano” from the 1915 “Stop! Look! Listen!” In the vein of the late Victor Borge only far more animated, Nadler sailed into that number amd embellished it by tearing into classics and entertaining with assorted hilarious antics. Nadler is in a musical class unto himself.

Did you ever hear the nutty song “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?” It is from the 1916 show “Robinson Crusoe, Jr,” and Chip Zien delightfully extracted the fun from it. Noah Racey performed and choreographed “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” from the 1922 “George White’s Scandals.” And when Racey and Danny Gardner teamed on “Friendship” from the 1939 “Du Barry Was a Lady,” old-fashioned vaudeville style comedy, enhanced by their joint choreography, flourished in full bloom. Earlier Gardner teamed with Aleka Emerson in his choreographed number “I Love You” from the 1931 “The Gang’s All Here,” another exceedingly entertaining turn.

By now you get the picture. And I haven’t even mentioned the dazzling contributions by other ultra-talented participants, including Howard Fishman, Alec Spiegelman, Dillon McCartney, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Sebastian Arcelus, Kecia Lewis, Camille Saviola, Julia Murney, Karen Mason and Carolee Carmello, as well as the musical accompaniment by Ross Patterson’s Little Big Band, including Patterson on piano, Don Falzone, bass, and Jared Schonig, drums.

Then there were all those exuberant folks in the Broadway By the Year Chorus--Ally Bonino, Sean Buhr, Paula Buresh, Michelle Cameron, Elijah Caldwell, Kristin Dausch, Keith Foster, Brad Giovanine, Mary Lane Haskell, Emily Iaquinta, Jeanette Minson, Bridget Ori, Housso Semon, Joanne Shea, Dominique Solano and Justin Talkington.

Audiences can now look forward to the other three shows in the 100-year saga. On March 31 musicals from 1940-1954 will be covered. On May 12, the scan will be from 1965 to 1989, and on June 23, it will be from 1990 to the present. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787. Reviewed February 25, 2014.


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