BWW Review: NEIL BERG'S 110 YEARS OF BROADWAY at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Magic was in the air at Sarasota's "purple palace", the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, when Neil Berg and friends took the stage and took our hearts with a celebration of some of Broadways biggest tunes, scored to his lush compositions. Actually I don't know if composition is a good enough term to use, perhaps choreography might describe his arrangements best because the way he tickles the ivories, those notes were dancing.
Back for its annual sell-out crowd, Neil Berg's 110 Years of Broadway did not disappoint. Outstanding entertainers this year included Jeannette Bayardelle, Rita Harvey, Carter Calvert, William Michals, and Danny Zolli, complimented by top-notch musicians; on piano Neil Berg, percussion Roger Cohen, bass Abraham Saenz, and Brandon Sturiale on keyboards. Each singer and musician is an accomplished star in their own right and when that kind of talent blends together it makes for an enchanting evening.
Getting right down to business the second the show started Ms. Calvert graced the stage with her sassy rendition of "All That Jazz" (backed up by Mr. Zolli and Mr. Michals) and flashing a voice and personality as big as the hall. Ms. Harvey's voice of an angel sang "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again", (Phantom of the Opera) from the depths of her heart. Mr. Zolli sounded like Franklie Valli was in the house delivering "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" (Jersey Boys). Carole King would have been proud of Ms.Bayardelle's lovely version of "Natural Woman" (Beautiful). A showstopper that garnered the first of many standing ovations was Mr. Michals as Don Quixote and Mr. Zolli as his sidekick Sancho Panza in their duet "Man of La Mancha". It was perfection. Although there were no costumes or scenery changes, you could envision the characters they were portraying. The first live musical I saw was a Man of La Mancha. A powerful bass can make or break this song and Mr. Michals did it justice. On the heels of "Man of La Mancha" Mr. Michals shook the rafters with the most exquisite "Impossible Dream" I have ever heard. Crowd favorites by rounds of applause, standing ovations and hoots and hollers were Ms. Harvey, "What I Did For Love" (A Chorus Line), Mr. Michals "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Camelot), Ms. Calvert "Don't Rain On My Parade" (Funny Girl), and the encore with the full cast, "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Carousel). The ovation of the night went to Ms. Bayardelle, "And I am Telling You" (Dreamgirls) who bared her soul and brought the house down with her stunning emotional vocals. The most spine tingling song of the evening was "The Phantom of the Opera" as Mr. Michals held captive his diva Ms. Harvey as they sang to us and to each other. It was mesmerizing.
From the rich scores that embellished each iconic song to the deeply talented cast and musicians, this show has something for everyone. I enjoyed a little bit of history that was verbalized between songs that gave it a nice touch of depth. Mr. Berg shared with me, "We have been to this venue 11 times, and last year I did a show that was packed with early era classics, like "Old Man River", Berlin, Gershwin, as well as Contemporary Musicals, like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, so this program showcased more of the middle era of Broadway musicals".
I think this is what keeps people coming back year after year. Neil takes the time to pick and choose songs from all eras and genres that celebrate the Broadway musical and pleases audiences of all ages. Mr. Berg is the composer, pianist, and musical director of Neil Berg's 110 Years of Broadway and Neil Berg's 50 Years of Rock & Roll. His other shows include the new Broadway-bound musical Grumpy Old Men and the hit Off-Broadway musical the Prince and the Pauper to name a few.
Rita Harvey performed the role of Hodel in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. She made her Broadway debut performing the role of Christine Daae in the Phantom of the Opera and created the role of Lady Edith in the Off-Broadway hit musical The Prince and the Pauper. She's perform on Broadway and in many regional productions. Rita majored in opera performance at Simpson College and is married to Neil Berg.
Jeanette Bayardelle starred in the revival production of Hair on Broadway as Dionne and in The Color Purple on Broadway and Celie, Disney's The Little Mermaid lll Ariel's Beginning and performed for Pres. Barack Obama. Jeanette wrote and stars in her new musical Shida which premiered in New York City off-Broadway.
William Michaels made his Broadway debut as the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast then return to play Gaston. Mr. Michaels was also in Les Miserables, Chicago, Man of La Mancha, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music, The Music Man and Camelot, to name a few. He began his career on the operatic stage and appears in his solo act Broadway in Concert.
Danny Zolli is best known for his monumental number of performances and record-breaking number of productions Jesus, Judas, and Annas in more than 26 productions of Jesus Christ Superstar throughout the world. Some of his regional theater credits include Evita, Candide, Sweeney Todd and Chess. Over the last nine years Danny has starred has one of the lead singers of the orchestral rock extravaganza The World Rock Symphony Orchestra.
Carter Calvert Best known for originating her role in the Tony nominated Broadway musical It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. Among her many roles she has toured with Always Patsy Cline, Cats and Smokey Joe's Café to name a few and has done numerous productions in regional and repertory theatre. Her television credits include the David Letterman Show, Rosie O'Donnel Show, and The Today Show. Carter is an accomplished actress as well as popular voiceover artist and is married to the band's drummer Roger Cohen.
This is a show not to be missed. It's fun, entertaining and well staged with performers you may never get the chance to see elsewhere. It's a different show each year as well with changes in cast and the era of songs that will be presented. For more information on Neil Berg's productions visit www.neilberg.com.