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.
Broadway 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.Broadway 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").It'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."