Broadway by the Year: 1944
As he did when he selected 1931 for Broadway by the Year at the end of March, Scott Siegel set himself up for a challenge when he chose 1944 for the latest edition last week. Except for On The Town, few hit musicals opened in ’44, and like March’s edition, the most recent BBTY was more a journey of discovery than a trip down memory lane. With Jeffry Denman’s upbeat stage direction and Ross Patterson’s excellent musical direction, the overall mood of the evening was one of an almost desperate joy, an appropriate mood for a war-beleagured America (then and now).
Understandably, the selections from On the Town earned the biggest responses from the audience, and those numbers were some of the best highlights of the evening. As he did back in November at Encores!, Tony Yazbeck sang a wonderfully emotional “Lonely Town,” giving audiences who might have missed his work at City Center another chance to hear him. William Michals got the Unplugged portion of the evening off to an early start with a gorgeous rendition of “Lucky to be Me,” and Kate Baldwin’s “I Can Cook, Too” was wild and fiercely sexy (the skin-tight red dress didn’t hurt, either, but it was just gilding the lily). The company (minus Michals) opened and ended the show with a bright “New York, New York” and poignant choral arrangement of “Some Other Time.”
While none of the other shows selected achieved the fame of On the Town, quite a few had some very worthy songs that got their moment in the spotlight on the Town Hall stage. The title song from “Follow the Girls” was sensually sung by Baldwin, Sarah Jane McMahon and Melinda Sullivan. Baldwin also got to show off her comic talents with the very funny “I Wanna Get Married” from the same show, which was followed by McMahon’s lovely “Right as the Rain” from Bloomer Girl. Michals and Stephen DeRosa each performed a lovely unplugged ballad—“Twelve O’Clock and All is Well” and “Wandrin’,” respectively, and both proving again that a well-trained voice doesn't need amplification. Yazbeck and Sullivan sang and danced a very cute “Only Another Boy and Girl” from Cole Porter’s revue Seven Lively Arts to end the first act.
DeRosa gave a decidedly fey rendition of the wonderfully witty “Is It the Girl (Or Is It the Gown)?” from the
same show, answering the question with one raised eyebrow. Director and choreographer Jeffry Denman sang a sweet “I Love You” from another Porter show from that year, Michael Todd’s Mexican Hayride, with Shannon Lewis (it was actually the first song of that title for the evening—more on the second later). Wunderkind dancer KendRick Jones got much more stage time in this edition of BBTY than he has enjoyed before, shining particularly brightly with Sullivan in the witty “You’re Perf” from Follow the Girls, which they also choreographed.
Baldwin sang a wonderfully poignant “Every Time We Say Goodbye” that focused on the fear in the lyrics, emphasizing that each goodbye might be the last. McMahon got two unplugged songs in a row, singing the soaring “I Love You” (told you there were two of them) from Song of Norway and then dueting with Michals for “Strange Music” from the same show. (Clearly, William Michals is not allowed anywhere near a microphone. With a voice that strong, this is a very good thing.)
The season finale of Broadway by the Year will be on June 15, when we revisit the musicals of 1970. (Any bets on when we start getting BBTYs from the ‘80s?)
Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter-Keddy