BWW Recaps: Town Hall 90th Birthday Celebration
New York City's Town Hall was never built to be a concert hall. Originally devised as a venue for
educating women about their newly earned right to vote, the hall's acoustics were discovered by accident and the space has become a haven for concert events since.
To celebrate the venue's 90th birthday this year, Scott Siegel, who has staged an impressive range of concerts on the Town Hall stage over the last 10 years, gathered together some of his regular talented crew (and a few irregulars, too) from the music, theater and cabaret worlds on Monday night. Much like at a Broadway by the Year event, Siegel shared stories about the hall's history, and each of the performers talked about what Town Hall meant to him or her, giving the event a decided personal vibe of intimacy.
Directed with plenty of energy by Scott Coulter and bookended by some rather forced songs and shtick by Tovah Feldshuh, the other performances of the (surprisingly brief) evening included, in no particular order...
* Guitarist John Pizzarelli told a great story about his father Bucky performing in a Town Hall concert that was meant to be recorded, but he and his band mates started so quickly that the recorder was never turned on. The performance was a smash hit, but was never caught on tape. (A justification for bootlegging if there ever was one, frankly.) Another great story involved the father-and-son duo going to play with legendary guitarist Les Paul (not at Town Hall, alas) and the impish musician un-tuning John's guitar while he was playing it. Bucky and John played four songs in their inimitable style, and brought the house down.
* Jason Robert Brown, fighting off a cold and sounding like a mix of Tom Waits and Billy Joel (in a decidedly good way), talked about how, as a struggling young musician, whenever he got to work on the Town Hall stage, he would get a sense that his career might work out. He sang "The Old Red Hills of Home" from his show Parade, as well as "When You Say Vegas" from his upcoming musical adaptation of Honeymoon in Vegas.
* Emily Skinner, a Broadway by the Year regular who has been sadly absent from the Town Hall stage while she stars in Billy Elliot, sang "Sleepy Man" from The Robber Bridegroom. While the song sounded lovely, she used a microphone rather than showing off her natural voice as she frequently does in BBTY concerts--it would have been wonderful to hear her unplugged. It always is.
* Unannounced guest Norm Lewis took a break from starring in Les Miserables over in London to sing a shiver-inducing "Bring Him Home" from that show, and offered a glimpse of how it might sound if the role of Jean Valjean had been written for a baritone instead of a tenor. (And again, an opportunity for an unplugged moment was passed up! What gives?) He also sang a lovely "I'd Rather Be Sailing" from A New Brain and "Make Them Hear You" from Ragtime, offering three very different styles of Broadway songs that have gone on to become standards in their own ways.
* Liz Callaway, who has segued beautifully from Broadway to cabaret, talked about how much she loves Sondheim's iconic musical Company, and then promptly forgot the lyrics to "Another Hundred People." Just as the pitying applause was beginning, she drove right into the parody "Another Hundred Lyrics," proving how much acting really goes into cabaret. (I'll admit it: I was fooled. Completely.)
* Two of Broadway by the Year's resident dancer/choreographers, Jeffry Denman and Noah Racey, performed their dance-centric duet of "Necessity" from Finian's Rainbow. It's become a signature number for the duo, and it's always a joy to watch.
While the celebration of Town Hall's history did seem to focus more on recent accomplishments (it might have been fun to get a reenactment of an early speech given there), the evening was a great sampler of New York's top nightlife talent, and of what one can find on its stage on any given night.