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A Tribute to David Merrick at Town Hall

By all accounts, David Merrick was not a nice man. He stole the sheet music to songs he didn't like...just before the curtain went up. He fired performers for the slightest reason...or for no reason at all. He threw tantrums and chairs with equal frequency. But as nice as he was not, he was a genius at show business, and was responsible for some of the greatest musicals ever to grace Broadway. Last Friday night, some of the Great White Way's best and brightest took to the stage at Town Hall to celebrate not only The Abominable Showman's importance on Broadway, but the songs he helped make into standards in a concert created and hosted by Scott Siegel and directed and choreographed by Scott Thompson.

Some of the songs performed at the concert became famous as breakaway hits. Lee Roy Reams opened the show with a delightfully retro "Lullaby of Broadway" from 42nd Street; Jim Caruso and Stephanie J. Block sang a bright "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me" from the same show; Stephen Bogardus sang a clear and powerful "What Kind of Fool Am I?" from The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, and Block sang an "As Long as He Needs Me" that was like a knife to the heart. (We need a revival of Oliver! if only so that Stephanie J. Block can play Nancy and show the world how flawlessly she sings that song.) Marc Kudisch sang a wonderfully unamplified "Make Someone Happy," dragging Siegel into the spotlight to sing with him.

Other songs are inexorably linked with the shows and composers that spawned them. Sharon McNight sang a fun and fierce "Some People" from Gypsy; Bogardus sang a strong "Promises, Promises;" and KendRick Jones sang and danced a sassy "42nd Street," muffing the lyrics slightly but more than compensating with his dazzling dancing skills.

And some of the songs never really became the hits they deserved to be, staying mostly in the Broadway/cabaret communities. Robert Cuccioli sang a nicely understated and sad "I Don't Remember You" from The Happy Time; Sharon McKnight got the audience to sing along with her raucous "The Life of the Party" from the same show ("They're good for white people," she commented to musical director extraordinaire Ross Patterson); and Tari Kelly sang a simple and soulful "Time Heals Everything" from Mack & Mabel. She returned in Act 2 with the dancers (Kaia Marguerite, Daryl Gettman, Jeff Lagace, Kristopher Stock, Warren Curtis, Richard Riaz Yoder, Nikki Chales and Lisa Marchillo) to sing "Tap Your Troubles Away" from Mack & Mabel, nicely balancing modern cynicism with old-fashioned razzamatazz. Kudisch sang two numbers from 110 in the Shade ("Melisande" and "The Rain Song"), nicely displaying both the boastful and caring sides of Starbuck, and reminding everyone of how excellent he would be in that role. (Perhaps a Starbuck sing-off between Kudisch and Will Swenson?)

ElizaBeth Stanley, late of Cry-Baby and Company, was featured in three distinct numbers that showed off different skills. She sang unmiked for "Is It Really Me" from 110 in the Shade, displaying a clear and lovely soprano voice. To kick off Act 2, she appeared in the skimpiest of dance costumes to rip through "Clap Yo' Hands" from Oh, Kay! (Merrick produced the 1990 revival) with the male dancers. Finally, she channeled her inner Monroe for an alternately charming and poignant "The People in my Life" from Sugar.

The evening also saw the return to stage of Carleton Carpenter, who made his Broadway debut at 17 in 1944 in Bright Boy, which Merrick produced. Now 83, he took to the stage as though he'd never left to sing "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly! The moment was magical, and could only have happened at a celebration of Broadway history like this.

As a nice counterpoint to Carpenter's return, the evening also saw a baptism of sorts. Disney Channel star Corbin Bleu made his professional stage debut with the concert, getting his proverbial feet wet before continuing his Broadway career. While his Act 1 rendition of "Who Can I Turn To?" was a bit stiff, his Act 2 duet of "Penniless Bums" from Sugar with KendRick Jones was downright electric. The song showed off both young men to the best of their skills as singers, dancers and actors, and proved old-fashioned showmanship is in safe hands with these two. David Merrick would be pleased.

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)