Review: BROADWAY BOUND Is Always Bound to Please Fans of Musicals at 54 Below

It's all about "The Shows That Never Got to Broadway" for audiences to enjoy

By: Dec. 10, 2023
Review: BROADWAY BOUND Is Always Bound to Please Fans of Musicals at 54 Below
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The road to Broadway success can be filled with detours, dead ends, heavy tolls, potholes, crashes, closures, and roadkill.  The Broadway Bound series at 54 Below has been examining musicals of yore that had their sights set on being the next New York hit but, instead, hit a string of bad fortune (or having producers unwilling/unable to invest a fortune), bad timing, bad decisions, or bad audience reaction. Some threw in the towel out of town, some were abandoned before there was a completed script, or some were just a complete disaster. Although these surveys are subtitled The Musicals That Never Got to Broadway, an exception can be made for something that did get to the finish line. But not for long: Breakfast at Tiffany’s was shuttered after a few previews; that musical about a guy ready to die called One-Night Stand (all too prophetically) died after one night. There is indeed “no business like show business,” as Irving Berlin famously wrote for a project that was one of the fortunate ones, acknowledging “the headaches, the heartaches, the backaches, the flops…. the closing when the customers don't come.” But as the hosts of Broadway Bound are bound and determined to demonstrate, there can be musical gems in the rubble.

Review: BROADWAY BOUND Is Always Bound to Please Fans of Musicals at 54 Below Those hosts were full of smiles and interesting facts and insights with a tight script.  Both are also peppy purveyors of podcasts as interviewers covering theatre lore and more.  Robert W. Schneider (the “Behind the Curtain” podcast), who also directs shows and lectures on this kind of history, spoke with authority.  Charles Kirsch (“Backstage Babble”) shows and shares his enthusiasm for the genre and demonstrates sly, sharp comic timing in his delivery of lines revealing the more baffling choices producers made.  They’re kindred-spirited spirits, like two peas in a pod(cast).  Seated on the stage throughout, their own apparent joy in watching the singers was its own joy to watch.  You can learn a lot from walking Wikipedias like these gregarious guys: Did you know that prolific composer Jule Styne (pictured below) thought his best score was for a musical treatment of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island? Review: BROADWAY BOUND Is Always Bound to Please Fans of Musicals at 54 Below Did you know that Andrew Lippa had tried to breathe musical life into Life with Father, the old hit play about the Day family, he called it a day before getting too far?  (But at least we got to hear one of the songs he did complete – delivered appealingly by Andy Tighe: He is a good fit for “She Is.”)

Unlike other 54 Below events revisiting old musicals, this edition of the Broadway Bound series (Part 5!) wasn’t prominently populated with those who’d been directly involved with the productions in question. But Eric Millegan was on hand to tell us how he was cast as the lead teen character in workshop after delayed workshop for a musical based on the film Mask until he finally looked too old for the role. But he gamely jumped into teen-adjacent persona for the score’s “The Planet Vulkturn” by famed pop-rock songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Of course, some songs from plot-heavy stage pieces don’t work ideally out of context, but the evening offered entertainment value for die-hard mavens and the mildly curious.  We got a taste from each of 13 scores, including “How Does the Wine Taste?” from We Take the Town.  Many people know this one from People, an early Barbra Streisand album, and Steven Brinberg who often sings decked out as that lady, came on for that number.  He was makeup-free/ wigless/ un-gowned/ de-nailed but nailed the vocal sound and phrasing.  It’s less fun that way, but I would have preferred it if he sang it in his own effective voice.   

Even if they sounded like good ideas (at the time) (or at least commercially viable) (or artistically worthy), some would-be/coulda-been vehicles aren’t lucky.  But “Lucky Guy” is a fun and frisky song that cheery Matt Koplik sold well with zeal and appropriate goofy, grinning characterization as the title dude in, wait for it (the groan and eye-roll)  Gilligan’s Island: The Musical.  Another lucky guy getting material that suited his show biz savvy and delighting the audience was Jim Brochu, a standout with One Night Stand’s ego-stroking “Everybody Loves Me” (aka “Let Me Hear You Love Me”). Brash female protagonists of varied velocities were ably embodied by Rebecca Spigelman, Janine LaManna, and Mary Callanan from, respectively, The Great Ostrovsky (Cy Coleman & Avery Corman), Enter Juliet (Morton Gould & Carolyn Leigh), and Maury Yeston’s work on musicalizing a story that later was taken on by Jerry Herman as La Cage aux Folles.  

Other singer-actors adding to the history, hoopla, hilarity, and heart (our own Broadway 4-H Club)  were Andrew Leggieri, Alaina Mills, Travis Kent, Kristy Cates, Major Attaway, and Bryan Austermann, with Jordon Cunningham doing splendid work for all as the pianist.  The evening went far more smoothly than the road to musical glory for these “ill-fated” shows. Of course, nothing’s perfect.  I’m unbothered and forgiving of the night’s one performer who went blank on the lyric and had to start over — but handled that well and had the right attitude for the situation and character assigned.  But I am bothered by the one performer who was enlisted to do one song but blithely came on the stage dragging along a music stand upon which were papers with the words to be read with eyes aimed there instead of having them on the audience. This is someone with Broadway experience who’s been similarly underprepared at 54 Below when I’ve been among the crowd deserving of material that’s been mastered.  (One can understand the “cheat sheets” if the person is a substitute, booked late, of advanced age, or a super-busy star volunteering talent and time for a charity fundraiser.)  But thanks to 54 Below for continuing to book events that celebrate musical theatre scores — the hits, the misses, and the future contenders  And thanks to Messrs Schneider and Kirsch for scanning the old and panning for gold.    

Visit the 54 Below website to see what shows are coming up HERE.


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