Writer Lindsay B. Davis hit the streets of NYC to catch the best of Broadway at Inside Broadway’s Beacon Awards and the final concert of Broadway by the Year at Town Hall.
Sometimes I take for granted that on any given night in New York City, I can see some of the best theatrical talent in the world. Other nights, I pause to imagine all the curtains going up in unison and know I could never live anywhere else. My night on the town courtesy of The Broadway Blog provided another perspective, with Inside Broadway’s Beacon Awards at Essex House followed by an impressive Broadway by the Year: The Broadway Musicals of 1990-2014 concert at Town Hall. Nostalgia was definitely the main course on a delicious menu.
My indoctrination into the world of theatergoing happened by way of my parents, who felt an obligation to culture me by driving from Exit 43 on the Long Island Expressway into Manhattan for dinner and a Broadway show as often as possible. When I saw Phantom of the Opera with my father, I was hooked. For more than 20,000 New York City children, the non-profit organization Inside Broadway provides a similar opportunity to fall in love. Not only does it offer kids the chance to see musicals but it also allows them to participate in the creative process by way of its educational programming, exposure to Equity performances and performance workshop opportunities.
Each year since its inception in 1982, the organization presents the Beacon Awards to honorees aligned with their mission. This year’s recipients included Tony nominees Anika Noni Rose (A Raisin in the Sun) and Andy Karl (Rocky), both of whom I spoke to on the red carpet. It’s easy to see why these two inspirational Broadway actors were chosen. For Rose, theater is a vital force for youth. “I think it’s very important. It allows children to express themselves in ways they aren’t normally allowed to do. When you snatch art out of the school, violence goes up and grades tend to suffer because kids don’t have a way to express themselves outside of ‘What have I memorized and what am I regurgitating on this piece of paper?’ You need so much more for your mind to be nourished. Theater does that for children.”
Andy Karl is equally passionate about what theater can do to enhance children’s lives, albeit from a different angle. “I look at theater as like a sport. I was always involved in Little League baseball and learned the way to keep practicing, get better and have fun. With any sport and any theater as well, if you’re not having fun then you might as well not do it. You have to have a passion for it and there’s also this amount of levity.” The evening was hosted by Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee and featured a performance fromthe musical Jersey Boys and a musical theater medley performed by the eager and talented children of Brooklyn’s P.S. 97.
Watching a group of elementary school students perform was enough to throw me back to the aforementioned Phantom moment, something akin to the thunder bolt seen in the Godfather. Sold! Your number sir? Thank you. Lot 665 ladies and gentleman, a papier machet musical box in the shape of a barrel organ… I would repeat the prologue from Phantom Of the Opera playing multiple parts, botching lyrics and diving into a sea of multiple accents. Phantom was the first Broadway spectacle I fell in love with and my gateway to a lifelong romance with musical theater. The dazzling dancers of 42nd Street, the barricade bashers of Les Miserables, the eternally optimistic chorus performers of A Chorus Line, to name only a few I saw before I was nine, transformed me into a girl that could not only dream but believed in the beauty of others’ dreams.
Take the leap for a recap of the final concert in Town Hall’s Broadway by the Year series.
Broadway by the Year, a Town Hall concert series conceived by author/critic Scott Siegel, includes a single song from a single musical for each year from 1913 onward. Presented over four nights, I saw tunes from musicals staged between 1990 and 2014. Luckily, my theatergoing streak continued well into the 1990s and 2000s, so I was able to hear many old favorites performed by exciting Broadway talent, including “What More Can I Say” (1992, Falsettos, the musical my gay uncle used to announce his coming out to me), “The Acid Queen” (1993, The Who’s Tommy, the musical that taught me musicals can be cool) and “Seasons of Love” (1995, Rent, the musical that gave me not only a hope in love and humanity but also the crazy idea that I can sing, since I performed selections from it in college). The night’s standout performances included Marva Hicks’ rendition of “Circle of Life” (1998, The Lion King) and newcomer Oakley Boycott’s take-down-the-house interpretation of “He Vas My Boyfriend” (2007, Young Frankenstein, didn’t see it).
It might have been the timing of it but by Bob Stillman’s poignant but hardly sappy “When She Smiles” (2011, Lysistrata Jones) I was in tears and falling in love again. Hearing a single song from a musical performed out of context by a solo performer not dressed in costume or benefitting from a set makes you pay attention to the music in a different way. You’re focused on the song itself, its capacity to take you from your seat into a story, activate your heart, or trigger your emotions, for starters. The journey of the song becomes even more important and overall, Broadway by the Year, including its rising stars Chorus, gets it right. Director Scott Coulter avoids a heavy hand and gives performers room to interpret their selections, and his “You’ve Got a Friend” finale performed with the entire company was the perfect way to end the evening, a reminder that music can be everything from a first to an everlasting friend to us all.
Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.