Review - Broadway Originals & Grace

"We should not do a show more often," quipped Ryan Silverman as he an Jill Paice took in the appreciative applause of the Town Hall audience before even singing a note of the Broadway musical they were expected to star in this season, Rebecca. Host Scott Siegel had just recapped the story of the show's numerous delays, fake investors, missing funds and the fact that an estimated 150 theatre professions had either turned down work or stopped seeking immediate employment because of their expectation to be working on Broadway by Christmas.

Review - Broadway Originals & GraceThe pair grandly tore into three selections of what is apparently a dark, gothic, power ballad heavy musical: "Help Me Face The Night," "Free Now," and "Oh, My God." Ryan tried setting up that final song by explaining at what point it appears in the story before realizing he didn't know.

Sunday's concert, created by Siegel with music direction by John Fischer, was the 8th edition of Broadway Originals, a favorite feature of Town Hall's Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival, which traditionally presents musical theatre stars who have actually made it to opening night, singing selections from roles they either originated on Broadway or played in the first company of a Broadway revival.

In past years Broadway Originals has trotted out some beloved older performers like George S. Irving, Anita Gillette and Nancy Dussault, recreating triumphs from fifty or sixty years ago, but this year the accent was on youth and more recent productions. The most senior of the citizens was the vivacious and still very active Tovah Feldshuh, swiveling her hips to the title song of Sarava, the 1979 musical that, before Spider-Man, was the model of a show that tried avoiding the critics by continually delaying its opening with a then incredable 38 previews.

Perhaps the least familiar face on stage was Kelli Rabke, who played the narrator in the 1993 revival of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and fiercely belted out "Jacob and Sons" with sizzling power.

Review - Broadway Originals & GraceTonya Pinkins displayed supurb vocal dexterity and dynamics in interpreting Duke Ellington and Don George's "I Ain't Got Nothing But The Blues," which she sang in the Harlem version of Twelfth Night called Play On!, and showed why she's one of musical theatre's top dramatic actresses with "Underwater" from Caroline, or Change.

Another outstanding musical theatre actress, Barbara Walsh, sang her Big solo about clinging to parental moments, "Stop, Time," and honored us with a sparklingly wry "The Ladies Who Lunch."

Alice Ripley repeated her Next To Normal highlight, "I Miss The Mountains" and assumed both roles for Side Show's "Who Will Love Me As I Am?"

Laura Osnes, one of Broadway's fastest rising stars, brought back her Bonnie & Clyde number, "How 'Bout A Dance?," and was reunited with her Grease co-star Max Crumm for "You're The One That I Want."

Elizabeth Stanley seriously steamed up the place while barely moving with an intensely sexual "Fever," which she soloed in Million Dollar Quartet, and them assumed all three roles for Company's Andrew Sisters-styled "You Can Drive A Person Crazy," which helped make the character seem truly bonkers.

Mandy Gonzalez reminded us of both the lows and highs of her career, singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" from Dance of the Vampires - with the concert's director, Scott Coulter, filling in for Michael Crawford with backup vocals - and "Breathe" from In The Heights.

Matt Cavenaugh contribulted some breathtaking moments as he delicately held those lengthy high notes in West Side Story's "Maria," then kicked back a bit for Urban Cowboy's "It Don't Get Better Than This."

Lindsay Mendez had only one spot in the show, joyously belting Godspell's "Bless The Lord." Perhaps she can do more another time if someone will move her memerable performance from earlier this season in Off-Broadway's Dogfight to Broadway.

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Tonya Pinkins; Bottom: Tovah Feldshuh.


Craig Wright certainly isn't the first playwright to open with an attention-grabbing final scene and then flash back to the beginning to show how the characters got there. But what really grabs attention at the beginning of Grace is that the opening/final scene is actually played backwards, with the closing action beginning the play and all subsequent lines and staging moments reversed, only to be done again realistically at the evening's conclusion.

Review - Broadway Originals & GraceThe march to that conclusion is a muddy one, however, as Grace touches upon various aspects of faith - in both the spiritual and secular senses - without introducing anything particularly fresh about them.

Naïve and ambitious Steve (Paul Rudd) and his dutiful wife Sara (Kate Arrington) - both devout Christians - have uprooted from Minnesota to Florida, inspired by promised financial backing for Steve's new business venture, a chain of gospel-themed hotels. Their slogan: Where Would Jesus Stay?

Their reclusive neighbor, Sam (Michael Shannon), is a NASA computer guy whose face was severely disfigured in a car accident that killed his fiancé. Set designer Beowulf Boritt provides a cookie-cutter development condo meant to represent both their homes, which the actors occupy simultaneously. Above them, lighting designer David Weiner's skyscapes are appropriately inspirational.

The cynical Sam has the sharpest lines when first encountering Steve's faith-driven sales pitches, but he opens up emotionally to the lonely Sara. A pair of whimsical breaks are provided by, of all people, Ed Asner, as a Holocaust-surviving atheist exterminator with a cancer-stricken wife.

Director Dexter Bullard's production is certainly competent, as is the quartet of actors, but Grace's hundred minutes of romantic triangle wrapped in theaological discussions is hardly inspired.

Photo by Joan Marcus: Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon.

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