BWW Reviews: BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1941-1965
For over a dozen years, Scott Siegel's Broadway By The Year series has both entertained and educated Town Hall audiences with an intensive exploration of individual years on the Main Stem, featuring top-notch theatre vocalists, beloved material by the great masters and intriguing commentary about how the Broadway musicals of each year reflected American attitudes, the changes in popular culture and the evolution of the form itself.
But the more recent editions of the series have seen a format change, with each evening taking on a 25-year span, featuring only one song per year. The consistently high quality performances remain, but the focus is now on the differences each quarter-century makes in the development of popular musical theatre.
The earliest year of the period from 1941 through 1965 saw the last Broadway appearance by entertainment legend Eddie Cantor (Banjo Eyes) and the latest one provided the first starring role for musical theatre legend John Cullum (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever). Cantor, of course, was an expert song and dance clown who played the same character in every show, while Cullum, exemplary of the changes in musical theatre, is an actor whose rich career not only includes Tony-winning musical performances, but acclaimed turns in Shakespeare, Coward and contemporary drama.
Monday night's concert was bookended by selections from these shows. The patriotic anthem "We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again)" was penned just nine days before Banjo Eyes' December 25th opening. As Siegel (who directed the evening) noted in his on-stage commentary, the song had nothing to do with anything else that was happening on stage, but it's what audiences, still shaken by the events of December 7th, needed to hear. The energetic march was performed with gusto by chorus members Jacob Carll, Kristin Dausch, Emma Gannon-Salomon, Trevor James, Meredith Lesley, Hannah Solow and Amy Wheeler.
Ryan Silverman's lovely baritone hugged into Clear Day's title song, where Alan Jay Lerner's lyric of metaphysical possibilities express a belief in the untapped potential of the human mind; a very 1960s theme.
The entire collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein was contained in these 25 years and they were well represented. John Bolton belted out Oklahoma!'s title song and then, to honor the international acclaim the distinctly American musical enjoyed, reprised it with complete choruses in German, Italian and Japanese. (One suspects it wasn't popular in those countries until several years after its 1943 opening.) Lari White and the chorus offered a dignified "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Kelli Rabke walked off with a flirtatiously fun "I Enjoy Being A Girl."
Cole Porter reinvented himself during this era, proving that he, too, could pen scores where the songs advanced the plot and defined the characters. Molly Pope's deep tones went unamplified for a scorching "Too Darn Hot," Jeff Harner impeccably handled the tricky patter and wordplay of "They Couldn't Compare To You," Noah Racy added his trademark stylish tap-dancing to "It's All Right With Me" and Ben Davis was suitably charming with "All Of You."
KT Sullivan, the star of Broadway's revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, squeezed all the demure humor from "I'm Just A Little Girl From Little Rock," and the evergreen Broadway song and dance man Lee Roy Reams, joyously sang a medley from Hello, Dolly!
There was no shortage of talented ladies exquisitely belting out emotions, including Beth Leavel ("Blues In The Night"), Julia Murney ("Right As The Rain"), Luba Mason ("Come Rain or Come Shine") and Jenny Lee Stern ("As Long As He Needs Me"). On the sweeter side was the heart-tugging Liz Callaway with "Look To The Rainbow."
Steve Rosen had 'em laughing with his thick outer boroughs accent for "Don Jose (Of Far Rockaway)" and Jeremy Morse, though he bears no relation to Robert Morse, sported the same impish panache for "I Believe In You."