Radio Broadway: The Radio Hits of 1958

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. If this is so, Barbara and Scott Siegel must really be feeling the love right now. Taking a cue from their popular Broadway by the Year series, Radio Broadway (a new group comprised of Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, Deborah Kym and David Weitzer) presented The Radio Hits of 1958 on Monday night at Town Hall. Rather than focus on the Broadway hits of any given year, this concert offered popular radio hits, showing the wide range of musical styles from half-a-century ago.

Concerts like this force an audience to separate the whole from the sum of its parts. The idea itself, if not original, is certainly clever: music is a mirror of its time, and opening up 1958's musical offerings to beyond Broadway paints a broader portrait of what that year was like. And the producers got some of Broadway's best and brightest to perform: Any show with John Treacy Egan, Max von Essen, Nancy Anderson and Jennifer Hope Wills already has much in its favor. And, to top it all off, 1958 had a lot of excellent songs floating on the airwaves.

But for all of these qualities, Monday's concert missed its mark. The show was presented as a radio broadcast, which must have seemed clever on paper, but on stage simply felt gimmicky. Various cast members read "news" announcements of various facts from the year, which only broke the momentum rather than contributing to it. McLeod (who played Wreck in the recent revival of Wonderful Town) is not nearly as involving a host as Mr. Siegel is, and his heavy-handed narration dragged down the pace of the show. Bryan Jarrett's choreography, while energetic, did not bring any new layers to the songs, and seemed largely repetitive.

On the plus side, the concert featured performances by some of the best voices on Broadway. Nancy Anderson performed a lovely "Who's Sorry Now?"-- her only song of the evening, though she was credited as "Starring." (Talk about bait-and-switch...) John Treacy Egan sang a very sweet "Catch a Falling Star," and dueted on "Bird Dog" (with David Weitzer), "Wake Up Little Susie" (with Charles Amann) and an utterly adorable "The Chipmunk Song" (with McLeod).

McLeod himself got to show off his vocal chops with two homages to The Big Bopper: "Purple People Eater" and "Chantilly Lace." Max von Essen sang "Summertime Blues" and did a brilliant Buddy Holly imitation with both "Peggy Sue" and "That'll be the Day."Lawrence Clayton got to rip into "Rockin' Robin," "Since I Don't Have You" and "Johnny B. Goode," conjuring Chuck Berry with his charisma and energy. Jennifer Hope Wills, currently starring in Phantom, sang a lovely, torchy "To Know Him is to Love Him" and a wonderfully hot "Fever." She also dueted with "Special Guest Star" Constantine Maroulis on "Devoted to You." Maroulis had two solos which would probably have been better served by Max von Essen: "Uh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again" and "Do You Wanna Dance," which let the company dancers show their skills quite nicely.

Some other dancers also made a special appearance: five of American Bandstand's company members performed such popular 1958 steps as The Pony, The Mashed Potato and The Stroll. While it was nice to be brought back to the music of 1958 by some of the people who made it popular, the segment didn't really add all that much to the evening, and went on too long. (The evening's finale, a hand-jive lead by one of the dancers, was much more exciting and involving.)

All told, the evening offered more than 35 songs from the dawn of rock n' roll, letting a new audience discover these classics. If the concert felt like a work-in-progress, it was still a step in a good direction. May the next one be tighter and more refined. 

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

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