BWW Recaps: Broadway by the Year - 1997
Much like the 1982 concert last month, this past week's season finale of Broadway by the Year at Town Hall was largely a reunion of Broadway originals...enough so that it might simply have been billed as the Siegel's annual Broadway Originals concert. But for those of us who never got to hear Lillias White belt out "The Oldest Profession" or Karen Ziemba sing "Willing to Ride," Monday's concert was an amazing opportunity, and a good reason for Scott Siegel to consider more recent years for the Broadway by the Year repertoire.
Of the evening's 23 songs (with music direction, as ever, from Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band), 10 were performed by their Broadway originators, though this proved a mixed blessing. Yes, it was great to hear Bob Cuccioli and Linda Eder sing "Dangerous Game" from Jekyll and Hyde, and Eder and director Christiane Noll duet on "In His Eyes" from the same show (and, of course, Cuccioli blowing the roof off with "This is the Moment"), but a little Frank Wildhorn goes a long way. (In total, seven of the show's songs were by Wildhorn.) Of course, with the cast the Siegels assembled for the concert, it was rather obligatory that they would focus on Wildhorn's two shows from that year, but it's a pity that more shows didn't get as much stage time during the concert as those two.
On the flip side, the so-called "Jekkies" were out in full force for the concert, and hearing them cheer for the three stars of the show warmed even my cold little heart (or what passes for one) a wee little bit. As Scott Siegel pointed out in his intro to the evening, 1997 was the year that fans began outranking reviewers in terms of keeping critically disparaged shows open for years. So if Monday's concert was somewhat J&H-heavy, it was certainly nice to see the three original stars together again, and to hear the joyous reception they received.
Also nice? Original Scarlet Pimpernel star Christine Andreas singing "Storybook" and "When I Look at You." It's a pity Douglas Sills and Terrance Mann didn't join her for a few more numbers from that show-would have loved to hear Sills hit that high note at the end of "Into the Fire."
Two stars from the gritty Cy Coleman musical The Life reunited to sing their respective solos from the show, and White's "The Oldest Profession" and Chuck Cooper's "Don't Take Much" may well have been the first time certain four-letter words have been sung in a traditionally very family-friendly Broadway by the Year concert. (Props to Siegel and Noll for not censoring the songs!) And oh, yes, the songs were magnificent, and just as chill-inducing as they were 14 years ago.
Karen Ziemba, who earned her first Tony nomination for Steel Pier in 1997, sang "Willing to Ride" and "Second Chance" from that show-sadly, she didn't get to dance with choreographer Jeffry Denman, but it was wonderful to hear her sing those numbers again.
Some songs got new interpretations by new performers, which is always a great aspect of Broadway by the Year. Dream, a musical homage to Johnny Mercer, was represented by several dance numbers choreographed (and danced) by Jeffry Denman. Denman and his wife, Erin, sang and danced a very cute "Too Marvelous for Words," Denman, Drew Humphrey and David Burnham sang a tight three-part harmony on "Satin Doll" to dancer Jennifer Rias. Likewise, Side Show's ever-popular anthem "Who Will Love Me as I Am?" was sung by Burnham and Tyler Maynard, starting at opposite ends of the stage and gradually moving to stand together. Maynard also sang a cross-gendered "Easy Money" from The Life, taking the song from being about a greedy woman to a crafty man. Burnham sang a very nice "Barrett's Song" from Titanic, and Christina Bianco conjured her Forbidden Broadway past by singing Steel Pier's "Two Little Words" both legit and as the song's originator, Kristin Chenoweth. Director Noll sang a lovely "Serenity" from Triumph of Love and "Once Upon a Dream" from J&H, and choreographer Denman showed off his vocal chops with an unplugged "Use What You Got" from The Life.
After covering 42 years of Broadway history (11 years, four concerts per year, not counting the two 1964 editions and last year's 20-year retrospective), it seems likely that more Broadway by the Year editions will focus on more recent years. If this means that more originators will reunite to recreate their performances, this will absolutely be a good thing.