by Steve Nardoni
The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Broadhurst Theater at 54 Below couldn’t have been more delightful in its presentation and performances, highlighted by the historical tidbits shared about this landmark theater. The theater opened in 1917 and was designed by Herbert J. Krapp and has been the venue for countless plays and musicals for the past century. We were genially hosted by Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Untold Stories of Broadway) and Robert W. Schneider (Behind the Curtain) who peppered the evening with legend and lore of the Broadhurst and its productions. They even got help from legendary director Jerry Adler who recalled a memorable audition from Barbra Streisand (the role went to Lainie Kazan!) during the casting for the short-lived Bravo Giovanni in the 1960’s. There was a trivia quiz with Jason Alexander by video to see if we remembered what we were told.
But let’s talk songs! The evening started off with Eli Bolin doing a tribute created for the event (aptly called “Broadhurst At 100”) that was frolicsome and funny, and riffed his confusion with Broadhurst and bratwurst (“The Broadhurst is a theater, not a food…it cannot be chewed!”). More hilarity followed with a Kander and Ebb ditty called “The Caper” from 70, Girls, 70, breathlessly performed by Jim Brochu which seemed like a foreshadowing of “I’m Not Getting Married Today “ from Company. (Yes a Sondheim revival played at the Broadhurst : Into the Woods). Christiane Noll (Jekell & Hyde, Ragtime, Urinetown) did a helluva ragtime rendition of the first song George and Ira Gershwin wrote that was performed on Broadway at the Broadhurst in 1918, “The Real American Folk Song.”
And in between we continue to be fed all sorts of memorabilia: Kelly the biggest Broadway flop, closed at the Broadhurst in one day. Rosalind Russell starred there in Auntie Mame. Tons of plays were performed including Amadeus; Play It Again, Sam; Thieves, The Sunshine Boys. There was a passageway between the Broadhurst and the Schubert, which accommodated much traffic back and forth between the theaters for actors to take a peek at each other’s performances.
We were methodically drawn back into wonderful musicals. I’d forgotten “I Love a Cop” from Fiorello until Rebecca Spigelman reminded me, through her sweet voice, what an unabashed song it was. Carole Demas was in the original production of Grease at the Broadhurst , and she was joined by Josh Franklin to reprise “Summer Nights” in a well-done duet. Wayne Cilento and Don Scardino were there! Wayne charmed us with “Mr. Bojangles,” the song-and-dance from Fosse and Don reprised his role as Jesus in “Save the People” from Godspell, flawlessly. Don told the story about the nun who came on stage, kissed him and said “I’ve been married to you for 13 years and I didn’t realize you were this cute.” Priceless! And fresh out of AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) came Ruby Shadley, of superb voice, who sang “Here’s to Your Illusions” from Flahooley. At the Broadhurst in 1951 that show and song featured the Broadway debut of Barbara Cook.
The enchantment continued with the rest of the vocalists who sang their hearts out and the audience rightly and enthusiastically roared with approval for each and every performance, all supported so well by the musicians. We were treated to Alice Ripley, wearing sexy orange, and purring “Raunchy” from “110 in the Shade;” the amazing Marcy Harriell slamming “Cabaret;” Sarah Charles Lewis sweetly reprising “Everlasting” from Tuck Everlasting; Howard McGillin smooched us with “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” And from Anastasia, the current production at the Broadhurst, Bonnie Milligin treated us to that wonderful song “Journey to the Past.”
So at 54 Below we got to celebrate a Broadway institution and enjoy a plethora of gifted artists singing the songs we know (and some we don’t). A wonderful evening for anyone who loves Broadway.
The Broadhurst at 100 – August 16, 2017 – Musicians: Piano/Musical Director: Joshua Zecher-Ross; Bass; Joseph Wallace; Drums, Chris Schultz. Performers: Eli Bolin, Jim Brochu, Christiane Noll, Rebecca Spigelman, Alice Ripley, Marcy Harriell, Carole Demas, Josh Franklin, Don Scardino, Wayne Cilento, Howard McGillin, Sarah Charles Lewis, Ruby Shadley, and Bonnie Milligan.
Photos: Sandi Durell
Additional photos from the 9:30 show by Maryann Lopinto noted