BWW Review: 11 O'CLOCK NUMBERS Demands the Full Revue Treatment at Feinstein's / 54 Below
Scott Siegel knows how to pick 'em. The New York City cabaret impressario who is the creator of the long running Town Hall signature series, Broadway by the Year, has long had a finger on the pulse of great talent and great ideas, and so it should be no surprise that both are on hand in ample supply at the return of 11' O'Clock Numbers: The Songs that Lit Up Broadway! at Feinstein's / 54 Below.
The term "11 O'Clock number," of course, famously refers to that pivotal song (usually sung around the 11 O'Clock hour) that finally propels any story to its inevitable climatic conclusion; and it just so happens that some of the greatest songs in the American Musical Theatre canon were written for the slot.
Siegel's idea is simple: a grouping of Broadway's best "11 O'Clock numbers," sung by some of its best musical theatre singers. Now, I confess, I approached such a concept with some trepidation. Wouldn't an evening of thirteen, twelve, or even (natch) eleven "11 O'Clock Numbers" in a row be a bit, well reductive?
As it turns out, Siegel was one step ahead of me, and under his tutelage, The Songs That Lit Up Broadway! shows a surprising range of material, with an array of character and styles that collectively paint, not only a rich canvas of the evolution of musical theatre, but also a worthwhile insight into how song illuminates the human condition. For, after all, by definition, the "11 O'Clock number" is a portrait of character in catharsis. And with its conclusion (be it tragic, raucous or even comedic) comes that emotional epiphany that justifies the whole rather bizarre (when you think about it) break-into-song conceit of musical theatre.
With a selection that includes the obvious ("Memory" from CATS, "Being Alive" from COMPANY) to songs you don't think about taking that coveted 11 O'Clock time slot (the playful "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from KISS ME KATE or the heartbreaking "All the Wasted Time" from the underappreciated PARADE) Siegel has structured an evening that is both inevitable and surprising and, as a result, satisfying.
Such an endeavor wouldn't be possible without deeply gifted performers, and Siegel has wisely chosen a trio of top flight musical theatre performers for the gig. It might be impossible to find more vocally impressive singers than Farah Alvin, Brian Charles Rooney and Mia Gerachis, and here each has multiple moments to shine.
Farah Alvin, whose delicious, in-the-center-of-the-note belt brings to mind Ethel Merman, Karen Morrow and the other greats of the Golden Era of Musical Theatre thrills with RAGTIME's "Back to Before," and MAME's torch classic, "If He Walked into My Life."
The extraordinary Brian Charles Rooney - a true countertenor - who can seemingly sing anything, carries not only the weight of the male material, but stuns with a gender-swapped "Last Midnight" from INTO THE WOODS (sung in Bernadette Peter's original key, no less).
Of course, not all "11 O'Clock numbers" are made equal, and though possessing a sumptuous sound to rival that of the young Linda Eder, it is a slight shame that for one of her two solo songs Mia Gerachis is saddled with "A New Life" from Frank Wildhorn's JEKYLL AND HYDE which, any hour you sing it, is ultimately just a single musical phrase bounced upwards in endless modulation. Luckily, Gerachis is rewarded "She Used to Be Mine" from the musical WAITRESS (perhaps the best "11 O' Clock number" in recent history) and in a full throttle duet with Alvin, "I Will Never Leave You" from the cult musical, SIDE SHOW.
Presented straightforwardly, with each song routinely interspersed with Siegel's customary deadpan anecdotal commentary, the results are effective, though not as grand as such an endeavor could possibly be. I found myself missing (or perhaps envisioning) more adventurous arrangements, a more fleshed out musical accompaniment, and a more fully integrated musical revue format. When Alvin, Gerachis and Rooney finally come together (splendidly) for the show's finale, "Once Before I Go" from THE BOY FROM OZ, there is a sense of what could be if they'd only been more fully synthesized together earlier in the night.
If Scott Siegel proves he knows how to pick 'em, it might be that 11' O'Clock Numbers: The Songs that Lit Up Broadway! could also benefit from some additional collaboration. Producers and Off Broadway Theatre owners take note - there is a golden idea here for a full blown entertainment worthy of your further development. You'd be hard pressed to find more roof-raising material.
11' O'Clock Numbers: The Songs that Lit Up Broadway!
Piano Accompaniment: Ross Patterson