Betsy Wolfe in ‘Broadway by the Year.’ (Photo: MaryAnn Lopinto)
Scott Siegel returned this week to The Town Hall to host another edition of his acclaimed Broadway by the Year series, which has been going strong for 19 seasons. If Monday night’s performance is any indication, what’s old can be refreshingly new, though a format refresh might revitalize the familiar.
Siegel is encyclopedic in his knowledge of theater trivia and anecdotes. The author, producer and director amassed, once again, an interesting collection of familiar and obscure songs, tied together with soft-spoken narrative and an ensemble of talented Broadway performers.
The first act showcased songs from 1965, and with the exception of Man of La Mancha (which won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran for more than 2,300 performances), most selections targeted terrific melodies from terrific flops, such as “He Touched Me” from Drat! The Cat! and “If I Ruled the World” from Pickwick. It was a time when stars could turn songs into hits, such as Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the musical of the same name, which lasted 280 performances.
While Streisand may have made some of these songs her own more than 50 years ago, Monday evening’s lineup proved that today’s Broadway performers could put their stamp on the music and lyrics of such heavyweights as Kander and Ebb, Lerner and Lane, and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Standouts included the utterly captivating Betsy Wolfe (Waitress, Falsettos) whose rendition of “Someone Woke Up” from Do I Hear a Waltz? might wake up producers to revive the musical. Corbin Bleu and Rick Faugno, both currently appearing in Kiss Me, Kate, also generously shared their talents on their night off.
The second act focused on musicals from 1978 and included more commercially successful works, such as the Tony Award-winning Ain’t Misbehavin’ and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Jazz vocalist Nicole Henry offered an intimate take on “Mean to Me,” while Faugno reminded audiences of composer Craig Carnelia’s haunting melodies from Working.
Danny Gardner gave the evening a choreographic boost with an enthusiastic ensemble who performed “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” and “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man,” but it was Bleu and Faugno’s electric tap duo from Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ that brought the audience to its feet.
The lengthy evening, made longer by Siegel’s insistence that every performer return to the stage for a second bow, teetered on indulgent. While the host’s commentary provided a historical perspective, I hope that in the future, the seasoned pro might share the spotlight to bring a more diverse perspective to Broadway’s lasting impact. Additionally, a look around the gorgeously preserved Town Hall revealed a monolithic audience, which could take a cue from The New York Pops’ Kids in the Balcony program, which brings students from across the five boroughs to its Carnegie Hall season.
Broadway by the Year’s final show of the season is on June 17 and will showcase musicals from 1987 (Starlight Express, Into the Woods, Les Misérables) and 2015 (An American in Paris, Dames at Sea, It Shoulda Been You, Finding Neverland).
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.