by Samuel L. Leiter
When I got home after the theatre, my wife, who’d been otherwise engaged, asked, “What’d you see tonight?” “One of those Scott Siegel, one night-only, Broadway show-tune revues at the Town Hall,” I answered. “Broadway by the Year: The 1970s.”
“How was it?,” she asked. “Very much like the one I once took you to,” I said. “They’re always delightful. Lots of first-class Broadway performers, some on the rise, some established, and a string of great show numbers from a particular time. As usual, Scott stood at a podium at one side introducing each number, usually with a show biz anecdote; the singer came out and did a more or less faithful rendition, accompanied by Ross Patterson and two other musicians; the audience applauded; and the next performer was introduced. Few bells and whistles but lots of talented artists and memorable songs.”
“Sorry I missed it,” she sighed. “We probably saw most of the shows from the nosebleed seats back in the day.” “Yes,” I said. “Probably 90 percent of them. Remember, I even wrote a book about those years, Ten Seasons: New York Theatre in the Seventies.”
“Who’d you go with?,” she asked.
“Mimi,” I answered, referring to an old friend, a veteran Broadway singer-actress. “This stuff is right up her alley.” It should be. She made her Broadway debut 71 years ago at age six in the original cast of Carousel!
“What did they sing?”
“Well,” I said, “It began with Kerry Butler singing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ from Beatlemania, which I didn’t think was representative of Broadway musicals but hit the right note of nostalgia. Then came a rush of Broadway standards, the most familiar including Morgan Weed singing ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ from Grease, Maxine Linehan doing ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, Farah Alvin blasting the same show’s ‘Gethsemane’ out of the theatre, a show-stopping ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ from Annie sung and tap danced by Cagney’s Robert Creighton and Jeremy Benton, and Linehan closing out the first act with a vibrant ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita. There were also a few less iconic songs from They’re Playing Our Song, Working, The Robber Bridegroom, and Pippin. And Carlton Terrence Taylor rocked the old Fats Waller tune, ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ from the revue Ain’t Misbehavin’, one of the many black musicals of the 70s that challenged Broadway’s nickname of the Great White Way.”
“During the intermission,” I added, “I told Mimi my only regret was that some of the songs, while sung very well, lacked the dramatic specificity they have in their original context. She thought it might be a good idea if Scott were to offer fewer anecdotes and more background context for the songs.”
“I love those songs! How about the second act?,” my wife queried.
“Much like the first,” I replied. “I hadn’t looked at the song list so I whispered to Mimi halfway through asking where the hell was A Chorus Line? It was good to be reminded, though, of less iconic but still super songs from The Magic Show, Shenandoah, Side by Side by Sondheim, and Bubbling Brown Sugar, as well as the old-time favorite ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby’ from Ain’t Misbehavin’, given the old razzle-dazzle by singer-tap dancer Noah Racey.
The classics included Creighton’s flashy ‘Mr. Cellophane’ from Chicago; Butler’s charming ‘The Bus from Amarillo’ from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Rachel Bay Jones’s beautifully subdued ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Little Night Music, accompanied by the delicate guitar of Sean Harkness; Weed’s emotional ‘Time Heals Everything’ from Mack & Mabel; Alvin’s unamplified ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie, sung in tribute to the Orlando victims; Butler’s enthusiastic ‘Home’ from The Wiz; and, finally—the one I was waiting for all night—A Chorus Line’s ‘What I Did for Love,’ begun by Linehan and brought to crescendo force by the entire company.”
“Damn. Looks like I missed a good one, huh?,” she asked.
“Looks like you did.”
Coming up at Town Hall:
Broadway Rising Stars
A national showcase that introduces New York audiences to the next generation of up-and-coming talent as chosen by a panel of discerning judges from among the most outstanding new graduates from schools such as the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, CAP21, Circle in the Square Theatre School, Marymount Manhattan College, The New School, NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and other acclaimed institutions.
July 18, 8 p.m.
Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged returns: great show tunes, great Broadway stars, great (big) voices, and NO microphones… just the pure human voice, the way it used to be on Broadway!
July 25, 8 p.m.
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).