Broadway by the Year: 1968
1968 was a year of great transition (ask your parents!), and nowhere was that change better reflected than on Broadway. The two biggest musical hits of that year, Hair and Promises, Promises solidified rock n' roll (as it was known back then) as a legitimate Broadway sound, while more traditional sounds tried to keep their footing in the whirlwind. Some of them succeeded. Some are barely remembered. But regardless of their success during their initial runs, both kinds of shows received loving tribute in the season's penultimate Broadway By The Year concert. The series' creator and host, Scott Siegel, focused the evening not on any one show, but on the many disparate styles of song that theatre-lovers in 1968 would have enjoyed. For the first time, a guitarist was prominent in Ross Patterson's Little Big Band, and even when he wasn't playing, he served as a reminder of the wide range of music both Broadway and the world at large would have heard 38 years ago.
Shayna Steele opened the evening with a rousing "Aquarius" from Hair, leading the company and setting the mood for the bright evening to follow. Jack Noseworthy sang a delightful joyous "She Likes Basketball" from Promises, Promises that included a single-handed cartwheel, and would have made Jerry Orbach smile with pride. Bill Nolte sang a funny and charming "Panache" from Darling of the Day that lead into a poignant "Why Can't I Walk Away?" from Maggie Flynn, performed beautifully by the evening's very apt director, Brad Oscar. Annie Golden, who could give lessons to botox-addicted Hollywood stars on how to be sexy and gorgeous and fifty, chewed up the scenery with "Hungry" from New Faces of 1968, the final year of the long-running revue series.
Excerpts from two Jewish-themed musicals followed: "In Love with A Fool" from I'm Solomon, smartly sung by Lorinda Lisitza, and the tragically unhip "Loving You" from The Education of Hyman Kaplan, sung deliciously off key and pitch by Adam Grupper. Mr. Nolte returned to spoof a Souza march (tuba included) with "Love in a New Tempo" from New Faces, and Mr. Noseworthy and Ms. Lisitza sang a brightly quirky "Let's See What Happens" from Darling of the Day.
Lisa Howard, of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, sang a lovely "Only Love" from Kander and Ebb's Zorba, and Messrs. Grupper and Oscar returned to sing the sprightly (and surprisingly ribald) "The Dangerous Age" from Ervin Drake's adaptation of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, Her First Roman. (The numbers from Her First Roman were particularly special due to Mr. Drake's presence in the audience.) Mr. Noseworthy and Ms. Golden sang a surprisingly emotional "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" from Promises, Promises, highlighting the heartbreak of Hal David's lyrics rather than the brightness of Burt Bacharach's music.
BBTY regular Scott Coulter sang a fast and intense title song from Promises, Promises, and just as everyone was beginning to wonder when the microphones would disappear, Mr. Siegel explained that by 1968, almost all shows on Broadway were using some sort of amplification. One musical from that year, however, featured songs that had originally been performed on Broadway without microphones: George M!, a precursor to today's "jukebox musicals," celebrated the iconic songs of George M. Cohan that had helped make Broadway what it is today. Jeffry Denman, late of The Producers, would have made both Mr. Cohan and James Cagney proud with his unmiked rendition of "Give My Regards to Broadway," complete with a wonderful tap dance choreographed by Denman himself.
Brad Oscar and the evening's men opened Act Two with "I Fell in With Evil Companions" from Her First Roman, and Ms. Howard and Mr. Coulter mellowed the mood with the poignant "The Butterfly" from Zorba. Annie Golden, dressed like a schoolgirl (and looking like one-- does she keep an aging portrait in her attic?) sang a sweet "Frank Mills" from Hair, and Shayna Steele brought down the house with a powerful and riff-laden "Easy to be Hard" from the same show.