By Melissa Griegel

The popular supper club 54 Below is celebrating ten years of it becoming Feinstein’s/54 Below with a series of anniversary concerts. On March 6, for both the 7 PM show and the 9:45 PM show, they had a star-studded cast of Broadway actors reuniting to celebrate the tradition of Broadway reunion shows, after a show has closed. Singer and SiriusXM host of On Broadway channel Julie James emceed the event. She was the perfect choice as she was at the opening of Feinstein’s/54 Below ten years ago when Patti LuPone was the headliner. She and Musical Director/pianist Drew Wutke sang a bit of Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time” with revised lyrics specific to the evening’s show such as “Everybody Loves a Reunion!”

Julie James

The evening started off with Damon J. Gillespie (Aladdin) who played Buttons in Newsies. He and Julie chatted about the difficulties of dancing on a stage filled with newspapers scattered all over the ground, and about how the show has created a huge base of fans called “Fansies.” Damon sang “Santa Fe” from the show. 

Damon J. Gillespie

Felicia Finley (Mamma Mia!, Aida) was the original Linda in The Wedding Singer on Broadway and strode on stage to loud applause. She asked if anyone in the audience had actually seen the short-lived show. Feinstein’s regular, Jo Ann Veneziano, sitting in her usual seat at a front table, answered “Yes. I saw it 170 times.” An incredulous Felicia thought she heard her wrong; “Did you say 170 times?!” Felicia went on to sing two songs from the show: the funny “A Note from Linda” and the powerful “Let Me Come Home.”

Felicia Finley

Next up were two cast members from the 2017 Revival of Miss Saigon. Lianah Sta. Ana (Miss Saigon) was a Kim alternate and Dorcas Leung (Hamilton) played the final Gigi. They both talked about how their relationship with the show has changed over the years, due to the stereotypical, hypersexualized depiction of the female Asian characters. “We want to be seen in non ‘Asian’ roles playing strong characters,” they said. “We implore you to see our humanity before our objectification.” They did a duet version of “Movie in My Mind” from Miss Saigon

Lianah Sta. Ana
Dorcas Leung

Chris Medlin (Diana the Musical, Mean Girls) and Brynn Williams (SpongeBob: The Musical, 13) hit the stage to sing “Rewrite This Story” from the popular TV show Smash about the making of a fictional Marilyn Monroe Broadway show (which may become an actual Broadway show!). They were representing the 2013 show Hit List that featured music and lyrics by Marc ShaimanScott WittmanDrew GaspariniJoe IconisAndrew McMahonBenj PasekJustin Paul, and Lucie Silvas, based on the original fictitious musical from the second season of Smash. Chris talked about how it took two years in the making for Diana, due to COVID, and then only stayed open for four weeks post-Opening Night. He was glad that it did indeed open and that they were able to film it for Netflix and record a cast album. Brynn’s favorite memory of Feinstein’s/54 Below was when she was surprised with a proposal from her boyfriend midway through her self-titled show in September 2021. She said yes!

Chris Medlin, Brynn Williams

The first Asian to play Ariel in Disney’s Little Mermaid (tour), Diana Huey, fittingly sang a song entitled “Disneyland.” The song is from a not-so-well-known musical entitled Smile from a very famous composer: Marvin Hamlisch. Huey also played the role of Kim in the national tour of Miss Saigon. She put her heart into the song, which has the character wishing she could live in Disneyland.

Diana Huey

Original Footloose cast members Jeremy Kushnier (Rent, Jersey Boys), who played Ren McCormack, and Jennifer Laura Thompson (Dear Evan Hansen, Urinetown), who played Ariel More, serenaded the Feinstein’s guests with a beautiful duet of “Almost Paradise” from the show. The show ran in 1998, with the Feinstein’s reunion concert held in 2016.

Jennifer Laura Thompson, Jeremy Kushnier

Bare: A Pop Opera, a coming of age story, never made it to Broadway, but had a 2012 run on New World Stages in 2012. Sara Kapner (The Band’s Visit, national tour) took to the stage to regale us with “All Grown Up” from the show. The reunion concert at Feinstein’s was in 2015. Sara said that like Newsies, Bare has a passionate following. There were two different productions, the second of which was more modernized, tech-heavy, and had some “cool, new lyrics.”

Sara Kapner

Husband and wife Rob McClure (Mrs. Doubtfire, Beetlejuice) and Maggie Lakis (Something Rotten, Avenue Q) joined actor and puppeteer extraordinaire Rick Lyon (Avenue Q) on stage to chat with Julie about Avenue Q and the 2004 Tony upset when they won “Best Musical” over expected winner Wicked. “We were all back in the green room in our tuxedos and gowns with mini puppets of producers on our hands ‘just in case,’ thinking there was no way we would win. I didn’t even hear them say Avenue Q. All I know was that I didn’t hear ‘wi…’ and everyone in the room started screaming.” The trio walked off the Feinstein’s stage, returning moments later with the iconic Avenue Q puppets on hand. The patrons went wild as they sang “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” “If You Were Gay,” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.”

Rob McClure
Rick Lyon, Maggie Lakis

Starting off at the piano, Scott Strangland sang “Dust and Ashes” from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. He was the standby for Josh Grobin in the show, and I could see why: he has a deep, strong voice and a dramatic style that was a treat to hear and witness. He moved from the piano to the mic stand halfway through the song and ended with a powerful finish.

Scott Strangland

For the show’s finale, Natalie Lander (TV: The Middle, 13 Reasons Why) and Cassie Silver (Rock of Ages, Matilda the Musical) lit up the stage in their fabulous matching jacket dresses perfectly befitting of Legally Blonde. Both competed in the MTV competition show Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods, to cast the leading role for the Broadway show. They joked, “Well, they searched, but they didn’t find it in either of us!” Their version of “So Much Better” was absolutely delightful and a perfect way to end the show on an upbeat. 

Cassie Silva, Natalie Lander

The show was directed by Drew Wutke who played piano. He was accompanied on the drums by Eliza Salem, Jonathan Michel on bass, and Hajime Yoshida on guitar.

Drew Wutke

Photos by Melissa Griegel Photography