Review - The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de Bergerac

The first 11 o'clock number of the evening came at around 8:05, when Marc Kudisch opened Town Hall's The Best of Broadway By The Year concert by caressing Lerner and Loewe's "If Ever I Would Leave You" with his rich, dramatic baritone and superlative musical acting skills. It was a very appropriate opening since Kudisch, a regular participant throughout the concert series' twelve-season history, very much represents what these evenings have evolved into; a look at what Broadway could be in a commercially different environment.

Review - The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de BergeracBroadway By The Year began as two modest concerts that were packaged as a part of Town Hall's Not Just Jazz series. Creator/writer/host Scott Siegel would select a calendar year (instead of a season) from Broadway's past and a small ensemble of singers would perform selections from shows that opened that year, connected by narration that placed the songs in context in regards to developments in musical theatre, popular music and world events at that time.

They were an instant hit and soon expanded into a series of four concerts a season, all with music direction from Ross Patterson, with casts expanded to as many as a dozen and floor space expanded to include choreography.

And while musical theatre history has always been the focal point, loyal subscribers to the series have been witnessing a kind of alternate version of Broadway's present, as Siegel has assembled an ensemble of performers as regular participants who represent some of the finest musical theatre talent that can currently be offered, yet their names are barely known beyond the relatively small population of frequent Broadway attendees.

Review - The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de BergeracBroadway audiences have always loved big-name stars, but for most of the 20th Century those big names came directly from the theatre and made Broadway the focus of their careers. Today we have stars like Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, who are best known to the public for appearing in Broadway musicals and can still attract the valued tourist dollars, but newer names above marquee titles - such as Raul Esparza and now, Carolee Carmello - remain unknown to the general public, despite their proven expertise, while inexperienced celebrities with underdeveloped stage musical skills receive standing ovations for performances that can easily be topped by Broadway regulars who ride the subway home unnoticed.

But when Scott Siegel hosts a show at Town Hall - such as this finale to the 2012 Broadway Cabaret Festival - those lesser-known Broadway regulars are considered stars by the knowledgeable audience members who appreciate seasoned skill above celebrity. So when Marc Kudisch comes back on stage to sing a standard like "If I Were A Rich Man," the house responds enthusiastically because a worthy professional is giving a fresh interpretation of an old favorite - playing a robust, demanding Tevye - phrasing familiar lines with unexpected inflections. And when he teams with Jeffrey Denman, playing romantically frustrated fairy tale princes expressing their "Agony," their vocal prowess is matched by their pinpoint clowning.

And when Denman teams with Noah Racey for "Educate Your Feet," the customers respond not only to the delight of watching two top-shelf Broadway song and dance men, but to the fine give-and-take between the snazzy sharpness of Denman and the boyish grace of Racey (who used that boyish grace so charmingly in Golden Boy's "Yes, I Can").

Review - The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de BergeracIt's expected that a great singing actress like Kerry O'Malley would thrill an audience with a dramatic solo like "I Dreamed A Dream," but what's unexpected is that she would take a seldom-heard piece like "Cigarettes, Cigars" (a sort of "Ten Cents A Dance" for a nightclub smokes salesgirl) and provide the same chills by playing its period melodramatics with gutsy honesty. Exemplary musical dramatic skills were also displayed by Barbara Walsh with Marc Blitzstein's sobering lesson in Depression Era economics, "The Nickel Under The Foot."

Christine Andreas was joyously French with "Storybook" and "I Love Paris" and Lari White, the three-time Grammy winning country/gospel vocalist who Siegel plucked from the ensemble of the short-lived Ring of Fire, presented two wonderfully details portraits of troubled women with "Doatsy Mae" and "A Terrific Band And A Real Nice Crowd."

Darius de Haas wowed the crowd with The Hot Mikado's "I, The Living I," Eddie Korbich was heart-breakingly sincere with "There, But For You, Go I" and Stephen DeRosa was slickly vaudevillian with "Is It The Girl Or Is It The Gown?"

KendRick Jones, who performed in his first Scott Siegel concert while still in high school, frequently sends jaws dropping with tap dancing routines that switch from rapid-fire footwork to gliding moves that seem propelled by water jets. Through the years his singing voice has matured with strength and confidence, as demonstrated by his fine rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'." The fact that this exciting young performer is not being given opportunities to stop shows cold in featured roles in Broadway musicals can be taken as proof that there's something seriously wrong with Broadway.

The Best of Broadway By The Year also featured performers better known beyond the musical theatre stage. Lumiri Tubo offered a smooth and mellow "St. Louis Blues" and Carole J. Bufford beautifully phrased the emotions of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man Of Mine." Christina Bianco, a Forbidden Broadway favorite, lent her hilarious mimicry to "Cabaret," performing the tune as Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Judy Garland, Patti LuPone, Julie Andrews and Celine Dion.

Bill Daugherty, known in the industry as a vocal teacher, gave a lesson in musical theatre character acting and pathos with a purely Runyonesque "Sit Down, Your Rockin' The Boat" and noble and dignified "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?"

Despite such an abundance of talent on stage, Beth Leavel was the only Tony-winner in the bunch, wrapping up the proceedings with a delectably saucy "From This Moment On."

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Jeffry Denman and Marc Kudisch; Center: Kerry O'Malley; Bottom: KendRick Jones.

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Douglas Hodge might well make a habit out of successfully injecting rough, working stiff edges into characters traditionally played for their elegance. He pulled the trick with his decidedly unglamorous performance as Albin in La Cage aux Folles and now scores a palpable hit as the title character of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.

Review - The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de BergeracIt's all in the nose. The lengthy proboscis describe by its owner as "a peninsula," and usually crafted with a graceful slope, actually looks more like a pile of rubble in director Jamie Lloyd's vivaciously rowdy mounting of Ranjit Bolt's invigorating translation. (Although, what is it these days with adaptors sticking modern phrases into pieces that otherwise evoke a specific period?)

As the lesser-born nobleman who is swift with the sword, eloquent with poetry and nevertheless suffering from an extreme case of poor body image, Hodge's Cyrano is a man who masks his self-doubt with swaggering humor, though crushed with the belief that his looks condemn him to never being worthy of the heart of his beautiful cousin Roxane, who favors the attractive, but inarticulate soldier, Christian. In the famous balcony scene, where the poet hides in The Shadows to impersonate Christian in feeding her the words of love she longs to hear, Hodge's Cyrano is in agony, suppressing his longing for the selfless act of giving his love what he thinks she wants. When the two men are sent to war and Cyrano risks death every day to send her letters of Christian's devotion from the front lines, it's with a noble sense of duty. Hodge's Cyrano is a good guy who needs a hug, or at least a year of therapy.

Kyle Soller's Christian is boyishly callow and Clémence Poésy's Roxane is suitably naïve, but it's the lusciously timbered Patrick Page who matches Hodge's star turn in his brief appearances as the villainously elegant Comte de Guiche.

Soutra Gilmour's darkly-hued unit set and costumes under Japhy Weideman's soft lighting give the handsome production the look of a classic oil painting.

Photo of Patrick Page and Douglas Hodge by Joan Marcus.

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